The first thing she did when they got in was to put Lawson out of her head, leave Henry to fume on her behalf in the kitchen as it was the only way she knew to put up with his moods and get straight on the phone to her friend. I didn't give her permission to write any of that! Oh Jimmy, I'm sorry. I'll have to speak to your parents too, otherwise they'll think I deliberately told Mina everything about us. She couldn't be furious like Henry was though. This wasn't Harper's Island and he couldn't solve her problems with violence.
"Mina, it's Abby," she began.
"Abby, sweetie! How are you?" Mina beamed down the phone. "I saw some photos of you out jogging. You look amazing. Properly happy again. I miss going jogging with you on Sundays. I just can't motivate myself on my own. When are you coming back for a visit?"
"Mina… What you wrote about me today, that was off the record," she said in an attempt to be civil and keep the embarrassment and anger under wraps. After all, she'd be back there in 2009 and alienating herself from her colleagues would be shooting herself in the foot.
"About Jimmy Mance? But that was the best part! Your emotions, the childhood love stories, the human tragedy of it all. Other papers are talking about the human story of Henry Dunn and the Wellingtons. Well, when they're not speculating about John Wakefield. We have a complete exclusive on you, sweetie."
"It was private, Mina. I told you as a friend. I always feel a bit awkward talking to Henry about Jimmy so that's why I told you," she tried to explain. In retrospect, she'd been stupid to say anything to any reporter but she'd worked with Mina for years. "I thought you just wanted to know what I could tell you about life on Harper's Island, my childhood there and the local people. And Henry and all of the Wellingtons and Henry's friends and…"
"That's later in the week. It's Monday. We need to get people hooked on them by starting with something big. You know how this works. We write these kind of stories all the time, you and me," she heard her friend argue. It didn't make having her personal life printed publically feel any better though.
"But did you have to print all of it?" Abby felt her voice break a fraction.
"No," Mina replied bluntly. "I could have led with the Wakefield piece, the Henry piece, the one on your parents, anything. But I had to start with something new! Don't you get it? I need to get noticed. My name needs to be attached to a story that gets talked about. There is a promotion coming up and I need it!"
Abby sighed. She had no idea what to say. Mina seemed to take it as approval for her to go on. Her voice hardened and strained.
"Listen. My rent goes up on the first of January. I cannot afford to stay on features. I have loans to pay off. The rent in my apartment is ridiculous anyway but it's ridiculous everywhere in L.A. even in your little one bedroom place. And there's a good chance I'll end up with Shelley's children dumped on me. My current salary is not going to cover that, OK?" she paused for breath. For a second, Abby thought she was crying. "We don't all have millionaire friends. And just because one's taken you in right now doesn't mean you won't be in exactly the same situation when you get back! So don't get all high and mighty with me!"
She'd only packed for a week so naturally she ran out of several things she needed relatively soon. Finding tampons in the bathroom after a rummage through the cupboards had made her breathe a sigh of relief and belatedly remember to thank Henry for thinking of her when he last went shopping. It was the confused look on his face that made her realise: Henry hadn't bought them for her recently; she'd been using Trish's things. He'd argued that it was fine, he wasn't going to use them, but she'd immediately gone out to stock up on everything she might need.
She'd heard voices as soon as she got back. Her heart sank as she recognised Shea. Please don't let her ask about my parentage. I'm not having a repeat of Thursday. She let Madison spread lies about me.
"Hey, did you get what you wanted? Shea's here. And Madison," Henry appeared in front of her, grinning. She nearly pointed out that he didn't need to hover, then considered that he might be trying to apologise for not telling her Shea would be visiting.
"Oh, I'll make coffee," she offered. Anything to put off Shea.
"We've got some already. Come and join us. Shea brought some things over of mine. Things left at Trish's," Henry said, waving her into the room.
Shea greeted her awkwardly and Abby sat down opposite her, wondering what to say. Madison next to her mother ignored her and continued to root through a cardboard box with one hand and hold a photo of her aunt in the other. Abby felt a pang of pity for Henry, having to see her face again. It's not fair for Shea to bring these around. How is poor Henry supposed to heal?
"How are you, Abby?" Shea smiled. Before Abby could reply, Madison's head jerked up to look at her. The girl jumped to her feet, upsetting both a cup of coffee and a glass of what looked like her pineapple juice. Shea reacted quicker than she thought physically possible, grabbing a wad of tissues from her bag and stemming the puddle. Abby wondered if Madison would reflexively deny it like she'd done with her grandmother's china.
"But I'm thirsty!" she cried instead. It was all the prompting Abby needed.
"Madison, come with me. We'll get you another drink," she urged, ushering the girl into the kitchen. "Do you want pineapple juice again?"
"Uh huh," she nodded. "I'm leaving on Saturday so I'm not going to see you again after today, Abby."
"I hear you're going on a vacation," she replied in the politest way she could. The reason she couldn't be angry at the nine-year-old girl who'd unwittingly told so many lies about her was what Henry had said, although he clearly hadn't thought about it like she had.
"It's not a vacation," Madison said, looking at the floor and shuffling her feet. "Mommy doesn't want me anymore so I have to go away."
"Madison, that's not true," Abby insisted, crouching in front of the girl, her voice choking. "Your mother loves you and she will always love you. But, Madison, please understand. Your mommy's going through a hard time at the moment. With your dad and your granddad and your auntie. She has to run a business now. And here everyone knows who we are. In Ireland, you'll be normal again. It's not that she doesn't want you here. It's that she wants you to have a normal childhood."
Madison looked at her but said nothing.
"After my mom died, my dad sent me away to live with my gran. I hated him for it. For years. Even when I moved into my own place. He used to send me Christmas and birthday cards every year and I'd never reply. I thought he didn't love me anymore. But he was only doing it to protect me from Wakefield. I don't want you to end up like me. Don't hate your mom. Call her every weekend and tell her about Ireland."
"I'm not going to fit in there," the girl whispered. "My cousins think I'm weird."
"Try," Abby told her. "I'll get better. I promise. You know the best way to get revenge on people like John Wakefield who ruin lives? Living well."
Madison gave a half-smile. "Mommy says I have to lose my accent. But I don't have an accent."
"Yes, you do."
"But I'm not foreign! Only foreign people have accents."
"Over there you will be," she laughed. "Here, let's go back in, shall we?"
She'd met the girl nearly two weeks ago but only Shea telling Henry about her account of meeting Ben Wellington the night before she'd arrived in Seattle had reminded Abby about Robin Matthews. There was another niggling reminder in Abby's head to ring someone else but she couldn't remember who. She swirled the white wine around her glass waiting for the young woman to pick up.
"Robin Matthews? It's Abby Mills, from Harper's Island. We met at the funerals there a few weeks back."
"Oh, hi. Umm, how are you?"
"I'm doing OK. I meant to ring before, I just… Well, I've had things to sort out. Are you still in Seattle?" she asked.
"Yes, for now. I'm just trying to sort things out with Hometown Press and relax a little. It hasn't been a good few months," answered Robin. Abby could remember a little of Robin's account of what she'd been through on the island and what had happened before that. An interview she'd done with the Seattle Times had filled in a lot of the blanks.
"I was wondering if you'd like to meet up before you left. I wanted to talk about some things with you and I don't think you know anyone here except us, do you?" she asked hesitantly. She barely knew the girl at all and didn't want her to bolt.
"Talk about what?" Robin blurted out, sounding startled.
"You're the only person alive I think who knows anything about what Wakefield did between 2001 and now. There are a lot of things I'm still trying to work out and I thought you might be able to help," Abby explained. If Robin actually saw John Wakefield on the night of the car crash and if my brother was in league with Wakefield, she might have seen him. But if my brother was involved in whatever his father was up to, would I even want to know him? But she held out that Robin might know something useful. "And I spoke to Shea Allen earlier today. She said she spoke to you at the funerals on Harper's Island and you mentioned that you met Ben Wellington."
"Yeah, I – I was on a date with Brent. We ran into Ben at a bar. Umm, when do you want to meet?"
"Any time. I'm not doing anything."
"I need to sort out college stuff tomorrow and I've got a meeting on Friday. How about lunch Saturday?" Robin offered. "One thing though – no sushi."
Abby smiled as she heard Robin end the call. Shea had spent a good deal of time earlier talking about her still-absent cousin and how the police hadn't been able to find him. He hadn't been in contact with anyone and there'd been no signs of his body on the island. Shea was terrified that he was dead too and Abby had lost all her resentment for the woman at the sight of the worry in her face. Henry had agreed to come to the airport with her to see Madison off that weekend.
It was odd though and it was something that Abby had decided to look into. She'd missed reporting, delving into people and details. Sitting around Henry's apartment and making the most of the free time was enjoyable but she'd seen the consequences of inactivity. As far as she could tell, there wasn't long in which he could have gone missing. Robin says he was in Seattle on Sunday night with a friend and she's got no reason to be lying. Then he wasn't on the boat to leave at 2pm on Monday and I'm sure someone said he was making his own way to Harper's. Wakefield had to be on the island that evening to break into my hotel room. If Wakefield killed him, there are only two options. Either it was Monday afternoon in Seattle then Wakefield headed straight to the island and that should be easy enough to track down. Someone must have seen something! Or Ben made it to the island and was killed there before meeting anyone so his body should be there too. But what about Brent?
At Henry's shout that dinner was ready, Abby threw her cell down in the middle of the bed and knocked back the rest of her drink. If she had to wait six weeks to contact Lawson, she could do something in the meantime. She caught sight of herself in the hallway mirror and her gaze converged on the ever-present pearl at her collarbone. Mom. I have to ring Karina. Then a different idea struck her.
"Henry, I've just thought of something. Tell me I'm being ridiculous," she started, grabbing cutlery from the drawer and pouring them both new drinks. He grinned but she knew he'd always listen. That was one of the lovely things about Henry.
"It's about Ben Wellington. You said he'd chartered a private boat after he missed the yacht so he was definitely on Harper's. He would have known about everyone in the party and all the places and timings with the hotel and the rehearsal and everything. But he hasn't turned up."
"Abby, he's probably dead. We're the only ones who survived."
"No, that wasn't – Remember what Madison said about there being another man in the tunnels, someone helping Wakefield? How do we know it wasn't Ben?"
A wild chapter title appears! Events in chapters run concurrently/overlap etc. This is a six-part chapter.