Chapter Twenty

It was a local newspaper only a few steps above a tabloid that put out the story that afternoon. Vivian Ames was holding a copy when Amory was getting ready to leave for the day.

Ordinarily Amory wouldn't have paid much attention to the sight of Vivian with a newspaper. But her furrowed brow and deep frown definitely gave him pause today.

"That must be some story," he commented as he shifted the day's work in his arms.

"Mr. Fallon . . ." Vivian looked up, the accusations deep in her eyes.

Amory frowned. "What is it?"

"I just keep looking at this and thinking of how you ignored your wife when you thought she was cheating on you. I didn't think you were a hypocrite before, but I'm afraid I do now." Vivian turned the front of the paper to face him.

Amory's jaw dropped. There, displayed for all to see, was the shot of Virginia having plopped on his lap. Above it ran the headline, Chance Meeting . . . Or An Affair Revealed?

"What is this?!" he cried, snatching the paper from Vivian.

"You were caught right there in the restaurant, Mr. Fallon," Vivian said flatly.

"She just fell in my lap when she tripped!" Amory shot back. "We're not having an affair. For Heaven's sake, I barely know the woman!" He threw the paper back at her. "And this is nothing but a scandal sheet! I won't stand for this. I'll sue!"

Vivian frantically grabbed for the pages before they could go flying in all directions. "Why was a reporter right there to take a picture if it happened by accident?" she countered.

"I don't know!" Amory fumed. "But I can assure you, Miss Ames, I'm going to find out!"

But the first thing he wanted to do was to make sure Edith was aware of the truth. He hurried back into his office, dialing the home number. The phone rang—three, four times—and Amory started to drum his fingers on the desk with impatience and worry. When he finally heard a click, it seemed almost unreal.

"Hello?" Edith sounded confused, perhaps a bit hesitant. Amory prayed she hadn't seen or heard about the article.

"Edith," he greeted. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to be late tonight. You see, something happened at lunch that's now being blown out of proportion. I have to get hold of the company lawyer and take care of it."

"Amory?!" Now Edith was stunned. "What's happened?! You aren't being threatened again, are you?"

Amory sighed. "No, I'm not. But . . . well, I ran into that strange Virginia woman at lunch. She tripped and fell on my lap and someone took a picture of it right then. And now some cheap newspaper published it and is reporting that there's a possibility we're having an affair. Vivian apparently believes it." He spoke the last sentence with a quick glance at his secretary, who averted her eyes in embarrassment.

"Oh, Amory, no," Edith gasped.

"When I think about Ned's warning, I can't help wondering if it was an accident," Amory remarked. "But I can't think why Virginia would do it on purpose. Well, not unless she's chasing me or something. That's all we need!"

"Maybe it's just a series of terrible coincidences," Edith said. "Amory, I'm so sorry."

"I wish it was," Amory said dryly. "Right now I just don't know. Edith, I promise I'll let you know what else happens. Hopefully this won't take long to sort out."

"Take as much time as you need, Amory," Edith encouraged him. "I'll make something that will take a while to cook."

"Thank you, Edith," Amory said in relief. "For understanding. After the way I acted in the past, I wouldn't blame you if you started wondering if the story was true, but . . ."

"I know you're a faithful husband, Amory," Edith interrupted. "You always have been. And you always will be."

Amory managed a smile. "That article really does make me look bad. I don't know how many people will believe that your faith in me isn't unfounded. I love you, Edith."

"Anyone who really knows you would have faith in you, too. I love you, Amory."

As they said their goodbyes and hung up, Amory started to dial the number of the company lawyer and then paused. This wasn't really a company problem. This was personal. Perhaps, he thought, he should turn instead to the lawyer who had helped him out of his previous personal fix.

"Miss Ames," he called through the open doorway, "would you get me Perry Mason's number?"

"Of course, Mr. Fallon," Vivian replied in some surprise.

xxxx

Perry frowned as he sat in his office, listening to Amory's tale. "So that's it then?" he said presently. "You plan to sue this newspaper?"

"Yes! Well, Mr. Mason?" Amory asked with urgency. "Surely you don't think this trouble is all in my head."

Perry sighed, setting the pen aside. "Certainly not with them publishing something to deliberately distort the facts," he said. "And you're right that we have to take into consideration what Mr. Thompson said about Virginia."

"Do you think she might have tripped on purpose?" Amory wondered.

"If she's out to get you into trouble, Mr. Fallon, I wouldn't put it past her," Perry said. "I know Hamilton has been dealing with her lately and isn't impressed at all."

"Maybe I should talk with him then, too," Amory said angrily. "But will you come to the newspaper office with me, Mr. Mason? I want to let them know here and now that I'm not going to stand for this."

"Yes, Mr. Fallon, I'll come," said Perry. "But wait for me. Don't do anything rash."

"I won't," Amory said in relief. "I'll be waiting, Mr. Mason. Thank you."

Perry frowned as he hung up the phone. If this was part of a deliberate plot to torture Amory, he could not figure out the reasoning behind it. They had, at long last, the information from the packet Ned Thompson had prepared for Amory, so the motivation couldn't be to force Amory to give it to their enemies. There had to be something else.

"Perry, what's wrong?" Della asked in concern.

Perry started back to the present. He had all but forgotten Della was there. He looked to her while getting up. "Oh . . . Mr. Fallon's having trouble again," he said. "It could be something unrelated to this whole mess, but when this Virginia is at the center of it, I don't know what to think."

"Oh no." Della frowned too. "That poor man. As if he hasn't been through enough lately."

"I know," Perry said grimly as he headed for the door. "Mind the office until I get back."

"And when will that be?" Della queried.

Perry paused. "I'm actually not sure," he admitted. "It could be an hour. Then again, it could be longer."

"You'll let me know, won't you?" Della said, her pencil and her hand poised over her notepad.

"Of course," Perry said with a smile before he started out.

Della sighed at the departure. It seemed that something was always going wrong for someone lately. And maybe it even was still connected with that unsolved mystery.

That was not a pleasant thought where poor Amory Fallon was concerned.

Shaking her head, Della got up to return to her office.

xxxx

Sampson slowly made his way to his desk, using the wall for support. He had gone back to work at his insistence, but at Mr. Burger's insistence, for now it was just deskwork. It wasn't pleasant, yet he would certainly take this over being stranded in the hospital, bored out of his mind with nothing to do except watch soap operas or read about other people solving mysteries.

He was anxious to get back to court, to get wrapped up in the intensity and passion of questioning witnesses, picking out lies in their testimonies, and uncovering evidence to convict dangerous criminals. But he respected Mr. Burger's concerns, and he had to admit that he wasn't yet sure he felt like standing around all day. So he would take the paperwork and pray that it wouldn't be for much longer.

He sank into his chair and opened the nearest folder, frowning at the details of its case. It involved a stalking incident that had culminated in a murder. It was a gruesome, cold crime and Sampson was anxious to see the killer behind bars—or executed.

But right now his mind was wandering. Instead of thinking of this case, which Bill Vincent was prosecuting, he kept remembering Jimmy Anderson's insistence that he had seen someone watching Lieutenant Anderson. That incident had not as yet been explained or solved.

It could be sheer coincidence, nothing to worry about at all.

But someone had definitely been after Andy before he had ever been kidnapped by the people who had really wanted Amory Fallon. Otherwise, Amory would not have been mistaken for Andy and clubbed over the head because of it. And it seemed likely that this stalker on the street, if he truly was a stalker, was probably mixed up in that madness.

Aside from the militarian organization, who else would be stalking Andy?

It could be any one of dozens of people—suspects on old cases, ex-cons, or family or friends of such people. It could even be someone hired to do away with Andy.

Sampson rubbed at his eyes. He had been over the possibilities countless times in the last weeks. So had Mr. Burger. They had each spent hours with Andy, going over his caseload and trying to determine the most likely suspects. But there were never any concrete answers, no matter how many suggestions were brought up and how many people were questioned.

The phone rang, snapping his attention back to the present. He reached for the receiver, grabbing a stray, rolling pencil with his other hand. "Hello?"

"Mr. Sampson?" The girl's voice was unfamiliar. "This is Nurse Bradshaw. I'm calling to make the weekly report on Vivalene's condition."

Sampson raised an eyebrow. "I see," he said slowly. "Nurse, don't you have the wrong office? It's Mr. Burger himself who takes down those reports."

"Well, you're listed as a back-up contact if he isn't around," was the reply.

Sampson was still confused. "But Mr. Burger's secretary . . ."

"Doesn't seem to be in right now," Nurse Bradshaw interrupted. "There's nothing much to the regular part of the message; there hasn't been any change in Vivalene's condition. However, someone did try to come by and see her this afternoon. Since that's unusual, I thought Mr. Burger would want someone to know as soon as possible, instead of me waiting around to try to reach his secretary."

Now fully attentive, Sampson pulled a notepad out from under the casefile. "Who was it that came by?" he demanded.

"She claimed to be a sister," Nurse Bradshaw said slowly. "It wasn't Florence, though; she gave her name as Jodie."

"Jodie," Sampson mused. "We're not aware of there being a sister under that name."

"I didn't think so," said Nurse Bradshaw. "Well, we don't have time to look it up here, but I thought you would probably want to."

"I'll get on that immediately," Sampson vowed. "But what happened? Was she turned away?"

"Yes, because she didn't have the proper identification or authorization. She claims that she's a dress designer in Manhattan and that she's been in Europe for the past couple of years. She wasn't aware of anything that Vivalene and Florence have been up to until just this week, and then she flew back as soon as she could get away."

"It could be true, I suppose," Sampson said. "But it sounds so convenient."

"She said she was going to try to get the proper authorization," Nurse Bradshaw said. "So, since it's only Mr. Burger who can give it, I'm guessing she'll be turning up there any time now."

"I see. Well, I'll be watching for her. Thank you, Nurse. You did the right thing by letting me know."

Sampson hung up the phone and was accessing his computer in the next moment. But it was only after opening the browser that he realized he already had a problem.

Neither Vivalene nor Florence used their surname. How on Earth was he going to know which Jodie might be the right one? There were surely dozens of dress designers in Manhattan with that name.

Still, it was all he had to go on. He would have to do his best with that scant information. And soon, Jodie likely would appear and he could speak with her in person—if Mr. Burger wasn't out of court by that time to talk with her himself.

Several frustrating Google searches later, Sampson leaned back, staring at the screen but not really seeing it. A new idea had just occurred to him.

Vivalene had held a grudge against Andy due to the case when they had first met. Was it at all conceivable that someone who knew her—perhaps even this Jodie—could be the stalker? And if so, would she plan to finish the job Vivalene had started?

It sounded absolutely wild. But Andy deserved to know of the possibility anyway. Sampson picked up the phone, dialing police headquarters.

xxxx

Andy had just been about to leave his office when the telephone rang. Surprised, he lingered and lifted the receiver. "Hello?"

He was further surprised to hear Sampson's voice on the line. And what Sampson had to say left him stunned and reeling.

"There's another sister?!" he cried in disbelief. "I know we found out about a triplet who died in San Francisco."

"This fourth one amazingly doesn't look like the others," Sampson said. "Or at least, the nurse didn't give any indication that she does. And Lieutenant . . ." He paused. "It is possible that she knows of her sister's grudge against you and really came here to do something about it."

Andy sat back down at his desk. "I guess that could be possible," he admitted. "I'd certainly hate to think so, but I can't take a chance on it. Thank you, Mr. Sampson. I'll try to find out more about her."

"I've been trying for the past thirty minutes," Sampson said in disgust. "And once again the Internet has proven that it isn't always helpful." He leaned back. "It's strange that she hasn't come here yet, if she truly wants that authorization to visit her sister's room."

"That is odd," Andy agreed. "But if she's not used to Los Angeles, she could have been held up in traffic or just gotten lost."

"I know. But I'm starting to think she just isn't coming." Sampson paused, listening to something out in the hall. "Mr. Edgeworth says Mr. Burger just got out of court. Excuse me, Lieutenant. I need to let him know about all of this."

"Of course," Andy acknowledged. "I'll call back if I learn anything before I hear from you or Mr. Burger."

He hung up then, amazed by the news and unable to help wondering if it really did have something to do with his situation. Vivalene's sister certainly could be an enemy of his, depending on how she felt about her sister and her goals. He would have to run a check on all Manhattan dress designers named Jodie and see if he could narrow it down to the right one.

An involuntary shiver went up his spine. The thought of someone wanting to help Vivalene get him killed was chilling. He hoped that there wasn't anyone fanatic enough and supportive enough of Vivalene to want to see that happen.

He still wasn't sure what to make of the experience he had had thanks to Vivalene's attack. On the one hand, he had been privileged and blessed to see and talk with Otto again. But on the other hand, he could not help wishing that he had not had to be killed in order to have that privilege.

It was both ironic and fitting, perhaps, for a Homicide detective to experience death and then return to tell about it. But it left him with an uneasy, uncomfortable feeling, to have been dead.

He sighed, grabbing his hat off the desk as he stood. Nevermind the past; even if it was coming back to haunt him in the present, it was the present with which he needed to be the most concerned.

He caught sight of a discarded tabloid on a table in the hallway when he stepped out of his office. The cover story, of Virginia being caught on Amory's lap, definitely gave him pause. Amory was not unfaithful to his wife. Obviously something else was going on.

Andy shook his head in disgust. Those scandal sheet writers would latch onto anything and anyone to get a story sometimes.

xxxx

Hamilton entered his office and collapsed at his desk with a sigh, placing his briefcase on the desk with the same motion. It had been a long, strenuous afternoon in court, battling with Stratton's attorney once again. And the mess was going to pick up again in earnest the next day.

He had the feeling that the judge was getting as fed up with the whole matter as Hamilton was himself. And he hoped that the judge was growing further inclined to believe that the entire trial was a joke and that justice would never be accomplished by a lawyer such as Stratton's. Not that it would help bring about a different verdict for Stratton in the end.

Hamilton kept wanting desperately for a way to trip the crooked lawyer up in his pack of lies. Of course, he was too smart to allow it to happen. So far, anyway. He would make a mistake sooner or later, but it might not be in time to keep Stratton behind bars.

And it seemed that while Hamilton had been dealing with unpleasantly frustrating defense attorneys in court, other weird things had been happening. Miles Edgeworth had said something about Virginia sitting on Amory's lap. And Sampson had gone on a spiel about a supposed sister of Vivalene's named Jodie Something and how she had been supposed to come here but hadn't and probably wouldn't.

Hamilton massaged his forehead. Why did it always seem as though everything happened at once?

"Mr. Burger?"

He looked up with a start. A blonde woman he did not recognize in the least was standing in his doorway, a portfolio under her arm.

"Your secretary was going to announce me, but I said I'd just come in. Oh, I'm Jodie Summers." She held out a hand.

He got up half-mechanically, reaching to shake her hand. "You're Vivalene's sister?" he queried.

"Yes." She shook his hand firmly. "The people at the prison ward of the hospital said I needed to see you about getting authorization to see my sister."

"Yes, that's right." Hamilton gestured to a chair. "Sit down, please." She did so, and Hamilton sat back at his desk. "How much do you know about what your sister's been up to?"

"I've heard all kinds of stories about a Box," Jodie frowned. "And black magic and the occult and other things like that." She sighed. "It doesn't surprise me, really. Vifa and Flo will try anything to get what they want."

Hamilton sighed. Well, at least he wouldn't have to try to explain that hurdle to her. He always hated having to go into topics that he still found hard to believe himself.

"Do you know about the supposed curse on her now?" he asked carefully. He hated having to explain that, too.

"That's partially why I came out," Jodie frowned. "Something about no one caring about her enough to break the curse?"

"Well, that's what Florence claims," Hamilton said. "I'm not willing to admit that's what's keeping her in the coma, but . . . I have to admit that the doctors can't find any scientific reason why she's in it."

Jodie nodded. "I think I care about her enough that I could break it," she said. "When I first went there, I had every intention of doing just that. But when I left there, I decided I should find out exactly what I might be interfering with. That's why it took me so long to get here—I was researching. And now, after I've been spending time learning exactly what she did to you and all those other poor people . . ." She shrugged helplessly. "I don't know if I could, in all good conscience, unleash a terror like that on all of you again. I could try to have the faith that she's changed, but . . . I'm afraid I'd find it highly unlikely."

Hamilton watched her carefully. "Then what exactly is it you want, Miss Summers?"

Jodie toyed with the latch on her purse. "I think I just want to see her," she said. "Not to try to get her out of the coma, at least not right now, but just to see what's become of her."

"I see," Hamilton nodded. "That would be fine. But, Miss Summers, I'll have to do some checking first and make sure you're really who you say you are. I hope you understand."

"Of course," Jodie said. "After the reign of terror Vifa presided over, you wouldn't want to let any of her paid minions in by accident."

"That's right," Hamilton said, relieved that she seemed to agree.

This could all be perfectly on the level. He was inclined to think it was.

Yet on the other hand, what if it wasn't? It certainly seemed convenient, for there to be another sister. And why had she appeared right now?

"Is there any particular company you work for, Miss Summers?" he queried.

Jodie smiled. "My own," she said. "My company is simply called Jodie."

"I haven't heard of it," Hamilton confessed. Not that he really kept up-to-date on dress companies.

"It's mostly on the East Coast," Jodie told him. "And in Europe. I'm looking into opening a West Coast branch, though."

Hamilton nodded. "It should take at least a couple of days for your pass to be ready," he said. "Please check back then."

Jodie stood. "I'll do that. Meanwhile, I've checked in at the Royal Hotel here in town. Thank you, Mr. Burger. Good evening. Oh, and . . ." She paused. "I'm so sorry for everything my sister did to you."

"I'm sorry, too," Hamilton said, standing as well. "Thank you, Miss Summers. I hope your stay here will be pleasant."

He waited until she had gone to request that Leon start checking into both her and her company. And then he sat back, pondering on what strangeness might be facing them now.

xxxx

Andy sighed, turning a corner in his undercover police car. He was going back to the city cemetery, to examine the area of the Graveyard Murder once again. Of course, after all this time he did not really expect to find anything. But the murderer was still at large and Andy was growing frustrated and desperate to discover something, anything, that could be a clue to his whereabouts.

The path to the tombstone in question was familiar now. Andy made the turns almost instinctively and parked near the correct section. He would not have much time to be here; it was twilight and soon would be completely dark.

If he was going to believe that any part of this cemetery was haunted, the stone where the body had been draped was certainly a good bet. Not only was there the spirit of the recently deceased, but the spirit of the person whose stone had been used. Andy doubted either one of them felt very restful about the situation.

As he started walking over the grass, a prick at the back of his neck made him sharply snap to alertness. Something wasn't right. Was someone here? Had someone been here? He started to reach for his gun.

Then the stone came into view and Andy saw what was wrong. He stopped, stock still at the sight.

A life-size cloth dummy had been draped over the stone, just as the body had been. A dagger plunged into its back held a sheet of paper in place, waving and crackling in the evening breeze.

Andy hurried over, leaning in to read the paper without disturbing anything.

The next body they're going to find here

will be yours, Lieutenant Anderson.

R.I.P. Andy.