Notes: And brought to its conclusion at last. I'm sorry it took so long to write this one; it wouldn't have if it hadn't been for those writing projects I took on at Livejournal during May and June. But I thoroughly enjoyed those and don't regret working with them. I have another mystery idea already waiting in the wings. Those coming in from other sources may be aware of it from the little trailer I put together last month. Thanks to everyone who has been interested in this project! I think I managed to tie everything else together in this chapter. If something still isn't clear, tell me and I'll either try to explain in a private message or edit with the explanation.
Hamilton paced up and down in the hospital waiting room, agonized and impatient.
The news on Leon was still not good. He was weakened and unconscious and in need of a blood transfusion. That was being seen to now. Meanwhile, there was nothing Hamilton could do but to wait.
And to listen while Perry and the rest tried to distract him and weave together the last missing links of the case.
"There's some things that still aren't adding up," Paul frowned. "Like how Helen managed to sneak out of the house at least two times when she was supposed to be under police surveillance."
"I've been thinking about that, Paul," Perry said. "My guess is that either she simply managed to slip out unnoticed while she was supposed to be asleep, and took a route across the property that was not being so closely watched, or else someone sneaked in and switched places with her so it would look like she was still around when she wasn't. Or even both."
Tragg started. "That could be why Jennifer Pearson looked so familiar to me," he exclaimed. "Maybe she switched places with Helen and I saw her at the house, from a distance. They're both about the same build."
Hamilton frowned. "But would she work with Helen? I realize it could all be an act, but she came across like she hated Helen."
"I know," Tragg nodded. "But then there's also Portman's claim that Jennifer delivered a message to her instead of taking one back to Jason, as Jennifer said. Maybe both things are true. Maybe not. In any case, I'd say Ms. Jennifer Pearson has some more questions to answer."
He stood, giving Hamilton a sympathetic look. "I'm going to go try to talk with her now. Let me know if you find out about Leon before I get back."
Hamilton nodded. "I will."
"There's also why I was wanted in San Diego," Paul frowned. "We still don't know that, unless they really did just think I'd keep out of the way better down there."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Steve growled.
He sighed. "At least we know now who that stabbing victim was that you found, Paul. Helen told us it was some poor sap who stumbled on her when she'd just killed Truth's double Lara in the storage building. And when she sent you out there, she really was trying to frame you for both murders."
"Nice lady," Paul grumbled.
"Aren't they always," Tragg remarked from where he was going out the door with Sergeant Brice.
With other matters to tend to, some of the people came and went over the next couple of hours. Hamilton insisted on staying, even as the hour grew later. Among those who lingered with him was Paul. Hamilton was both surprised and touched.
"You don't have to stay, you know," he said as they stood at the window. "You admitted you don't really know Leon very well."
Paul shoved his hands in his pockets. "I know," he said. "I don't." He shifted, looking a bit awkward. "Maybe I'm trying to make up for what I did . . . before."
Hamilton regarded him in amazement. "You don't have to make up for that. We know now why it happened and why you did it. In some weird way . . . no, in a very real way, your attacking me proves that you care, just like Portman said. It wouldn't have happened if you didn't care."
"Yeah, but then there's the sick irony of it too," Paul said, the bitterness in his voice. "If I'd killed you . . ."
"But you didn't," Hamilton quickly interjected.
"If I had . . ." Paul trailed off. "No, nevermind. I don't want to talk about that. I guess all I can really do is apologize for it and move on. Even though 'I'm sorry for almost killing you' doesn't sound right at all."
Hamilton chuckled under his breath. "Your apology is accepted anyway. And Paul . . ." He sobered, looking at his friend in all sincerity. "It's good to have you grounded in reality again."
"Tell me about it," Paul said. "I never want to leave reality again."
"And I'll do everything in my power to see that you don't," said Hamilton. "I'm sure Perry and Della and Steve are of the same mind."
Both men looked up. The doctor was coming out at last.
Hamilton perked up and hurried over to him. "How is he, Doctor?" he greeted. "Is he going to make it?"
The physician nodded and smiled. "I think so. His body's responding to the transfusion. He's lucky the knife and that glass didn't piece anything vital." He flipped the pages on his clipboard. "He's awake and asking for you. But Mr. Burger, don't keep him long, please."
Hamilton smiled in relief. "I won't," he promised. "Thank you."
Paul grinned. "You go on and talk to him," he said. "I'll wait here with Perry and Della and Mignon." They were coming over now too, having heard the news. They were all relieved.
Hamilton glanced to him and nodded. "I'll tell him you and everyone else has been here, worried about him."
"You do that," Paul said. "And I'll start calling Tragg and the others to let them know he'll be okay."
Hamilton's eyes flickered in surprise. "Thanks."
Leon's hair always seemed to manage to find a way to fall in his eyes. It was doing so again when Hamilton pushed the heavy door open and entered the room. Leon was lying in the bed, resting against a couple of thick pillows. He smiled brightly as Hamilton entered. "Mr. Burger!"
Hamilton came to stand by the bed, looking Leon over to make sure he really was doing alright. "How you can see is beyond my knowledge," he remarked.
Leon pushed the bangs out of his eyes. "Are you alright, Sir? I was worried that witch would go after you, too."
"I'm fine, Leon," Hamilton tried to reassure him. "She's caught now. She won't hurt any of us anymore."
"Good. Oh, did you get my folder?"
Hamilton nodded. "It should help a great deal. That, and the logbook of Vann's that Steve found on Helen Watkins." He regarded Leon seriously and with gratitude. "Thank you, Leon."
"I always want to help," Leon said. "I'm glad if I could."
"You have," Hamilton said firmly. "Now you just need to relax and get better. The office will probably fall apart without you around to manage it."
Leon's eyes flickered with pride even as he said, "I'm sure Miss Miller and the others can keep it going, Sir." It meant a great deal to him to have Hamilton's approval.
And Hamilton knew it. "Oh sure, they can keep it going," he said. "But you've figured out how to get things done faster than usual. It'll take them a while to catch on to that."
"I'll be back soon, Sir," Leon promised.
"I hope so," Hamilton rejoined. "Mainly, though, I'm just glad you'll be back at all."
Leon fell silent. ". . . Why did that woman want to kill me?"
Hamilton sighed. "It looks like it had to do with how angry she was over you taking part in helping me with the case against Vann." Seeing that Leon was tiring, he straightened. "But nevermind that; we'll talk about it when you're feeling better. You should rest now."
"I feel alright, Sir."
"Maybe so, but after what you've been through, you still need to rest." Hamilton backed up. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Alright. Goodnight, Mr. Burger."
Hamilton's mind was filled with many different subjects as he walked back up the hall—Leon, Helen, and the attack, among others. Paul's situation was also heavily present. But when he arrived in the waiting room and saw that Tragg had returned, along with Andy and Steve, every thought fled his mind.
"Tragg," he greeted. "Andy, Steve. What happened?"
Tragg sighed. "Well, Jennifer finally admitted that yes, she was out at Vann's place a couple of times," he said. "But she said that she and Jason had teamed up to try to find out what had happened to Truth. So when I saw her, she must've just been going over to talk to Helen or Winters about it. She didn't know how Helen managed to get out of the house those times."
Steve continued, "Helen backed up Jennifer's story. She also said that she just sneaked out late at night and took a secret path the police didn't know about. Apparently that's also how Portman's equipment got into that storage shed. There's a back door that leads directly into the hedge running behind it and the ivy."
"That's bizarre," Paul declared, shaking his head.
"And what about those unidentified fingerprints?" Perry wanted to know.
"Helen said they probably belonged to one of Portman's lackeys, the fellow that helped move the stuff." Tragg exhaled in exasperation. "I thought we'd rounded most of them up."
"With a creep like her, it's not too surprising there's more," Paul said.
Tragg nodded. "We'll be talking to Portman about that tomorrow." From his expression and tone of voice, he did not relish the task. Of course, no one could blame him.
"What about the discrepancy with the notes?" Hamilton wondered.
"Jennifer did both," Andy said. "She delivered a message to Portman, which she didn't read herself, and took one back to Jason."
"What's going to happen to her?" Perry wondered.
"Well, she's certainly guilty of not just letting the police do their own investigating," Tragg grunted. "But we can't arrest her for that alone. She said she never got mixed up in anything illegal, or even questionable at all, other than that note. We'll watch her for a while longer, but overall I'm convinced that she isn't a problem."
"I'm glad," Della smiled.
"And what about that Lara person?" Paul piped up.
Tragg shook his head. "Oh, that's a strange one. Winters found her and thought she should work with Jason because of her strong resemblance to Truth."
"So he was obsessed with her," Della blinked.
"It would seem so," Tragg said. "We can't question him to find out. He's still in critical condition. But it looks like he just wanted her around to remind him of Truth."
"I don't understand why he was involved with Helen at all," said Della. "Why not just be with Truth?"
"Apparently he found Helen first," Tragg said. "Later on he found Truth and liked her more, but Helen wouldn't let him go."
"And that's what caused all of this." Paul shuddered. "Serious relationships are a scary thing."
"At least they're not usually this scary," Perry said. "Usually both parties involved are mature and rational adults."
"Anyway," Steve cut in, "Helen finally admitted that Lara's body is in a crate from the storage shed, at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It was weighed down, so we might still be able to find it."
"I hope so," Della said with a shudder. "That poor girl. Did she even know what was going on?"
"She knew Jason Fleur was forging papers in order to study people from all walks of life," Tragg said. "But she wasn't told of exactly what they were doing to help Helen and Winters. The way Helen told it, maybe she never knew, until they had the plan to drug you, Paul."
"Well, she sure didn't seem to hesitate about going along with it," Paul said bitterly. "She just stuck me with that needle as soon as she caught me off-guard."
"Helen or Winters might have threatened Jason's life to make her agree," Steve said. "Helen indicated as much."
"And Helen killed her later that night because she was sick of Winters paying attention to her?" Della deduced in horror.
Steve nodded. "It was like Truth Pearson all over again."
Paul frowned. "The whole mess is disgusting. And we were caught right in the middle of it. Oh, by the way, who knocked out Burger in the cemetery?"
"That was Jason, on orders from Winters," Steve said. "They were just trying to set up a meeting between you two, in the most sick and twisted way they could imagine. They knew all too well what you'd think if you stumbled over Mr. Burger's body while he was still unconscious."
Tragg chimed in, "By that point you were supposed to be dead instead of returning to Los Angeles. So they were trying to throw a new monkey wrench into their plan, to fix the one Jason had thrown in by not killing you."
Paul's lip curled. "What a bunch of rotten people."
"And how," Andy frowned.
Tragg looked to Hamilton. "Oh, we got so caught up in this that I didn't have the chance to ask. How's Leon?"
"He's going to be just fine," Hamilton said in relief.
"And so, might I add, am I," Paul said. "After long last."
Perry regarded him in approval. "Those are words we've wanted to hear for days, Paul."
Della nodded. "When Leon's better, we should all go out for a celebratory dinner," she said.
"That's a great idea," Paul declared. "And I could do with one right now, too."
"That's right," Perry mused. "We never did eat dinner, did we."
"We most certainly didn't," Della said. "I was too upset to eat before. Now I can hardly think of anything else."
Tragg regarded them in amusement. "Well, it just so happens that Andy and Steve have invited us to a very late dinner, now that we're all off-duty."
Steve nodded. "Clay's should still be open."
"I'm in!" Paul exclaimed.
"I'm sure we all are," Perry smiled. "We've all been through far too much on much too little food."
"Then let's end this case with a meal done right," Paul said. His stomach growled in agreement.
The friends left the hospital in high spirits. Paul walked with Perry on his one side and Hamilton on his other. The hurt and pain would be able to mend now. This case had left him with new knowledge of himself—some he liked and some he did not like.
But one thing he liked, and liked the most, was the knowledge of his friendship with Hamilton Burger. It was there and it was real, and now Paul was certain that it would continue to grow.
That was a reality he could live with.