Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, only this story.
I would like to thank my beta and friend, Fran, whose editing skills are much appreciated. Although she gets after for me for "tweaking," I am sometimes unable to resist. Therefore, any mistakes you see in this story are my own. I would also like to give Stephanie (Southern Charm) a big thanks for taking the time to pre-read!
Welcome to What-A-Burger # Unknown
The Lying and the Lam: Part One
"A woman, especially, if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."
Why would an intelligent woman with a Ph.D. be stupid enough to confront a man who'd struck and bruised her, alone?
I am not an impulsive person by nature. Spontaneity is not one of my character traits; if anything, I am known to be pragmatic and predictable.
So why did I grab my car keys and dash over to James' house after I promised Jasper that I wouldn't?
I wish I knew.
All I know is that I had been dreading the confrontation with every fiber of my being. I'd hardly slept the night before; my heart was heavy, my mind was full.
And my cheekbone hurt terribly.
I canceled my morning class and took a long walk along the Housatonic River, trying to clear my head and to gain some perspective. But every step I took reminded me of James.
'I love that you wore your green sweater today; look how it contrasts with the green of the trees and the gray of the river.Perhaps the yellow scarf I bought you will bring out the sun. You must wear it tomorrow!'
I shudder when I think of how charming I thought those comments were when he made them. Now I can see they were just plain bizarre.
The images of his laughing eyes made me want to run back to my cottage and hide for the rest of the day. However, I'd promised myself that I would not indulge in that type of behavior as I'd already given James far too much control of my life already. So I hastily decided the best course of action was to go straight to his place and collect my things while he was still gone.
Jasper had texted earlier to let me know that his grandmother had had a stroke, so he was flying to Texas, and wouldn't return for several days. He begged me not to approach James alone, but I ignored his pleas. I needed to be done with this man once and for all. Besides, James wasn't due to return until late in the afternoon.
I arrived at the apartment building shortly after twelve. The complex was brand new, so new, in fact, that it wasn't officially occupied by anyone but James.
'It pays to have connections in all the right places, Isabella. Look … Twelve fully furnished units, all sparkling new and uninhabited by anyone except for yours truly. At least until next fall …'
Still, I was nervous about being there alone, and I made certain to glance several times over my shoulders lest someone be lurking. I sighed in relief when I saw that I was quite alone.
I entered his apartment easily enough. The code to his front door, which I happened to notice when he keyed them in the first time he took me there, were the same numbers as my birthday; 9-13-1986. At the time, I'd thought it charming, although I realize now that I'd never shared my actual birthday with James at all.
I went through the front door and heaved another sigh of relief when I discovered my teacher's bag was sitting near the leather sofa exactly where I'd left it several days earlier. It was stuffed with thumb drives for the final exams. James had promised that he would bring it with him the night he arrived back from his trip, only he hadn't.
James' apartment, though spacious, was devoid of color and personality, even the pictures on the wall were generic and bland. In addition, there was something off about the way I felt the few times I visited him here, so we mostly hung out at my cottage, which James preferred, or so he said.
'It's as comfortable as an old shoe; just like you, darling.'
In retrospect, I should have ended things with him then; comparing one's significant other to a shoe; an old one at that is not exactly romantic or the least bit flattering.
I set my purse down and grabbed the large Michael Kors satchel that Jessica had given me for my birthday last September. I glanced around for the jacket I'd also forgotten, but it wasn't in sight. Frustrated, and aware of the time, I looked inside the massive closet in the hall adjacent to his master bedroom, but it wasn't there.
Nor was it lying on his bed, a bed that I had never been in since our relationship turned to intimacy.
I nearly laughed out loud at the irony; our relationship was far from intimate, I could see that as plain as the bruise on my face.
My eyes scanned the interior of his bedroom. It was large, spotless, and as sterile as a cotton ball. As was his granite and marble ensuite. There was nothing there to indicate that a human being ever used this facility. His shower was devoid of life; no shampoo, soap, or even a stand of hair in the drain to suggest recent use.
Curious, I exited the bath and walked over to what appeared to be the door of his bedroom closet.
I remember thinking that was odd; who on earth locks their bedroom closet?
Someone who has secrets, my intuition warned.
I ran my hands over the top ledge to feel for a spare key.
I sat on the edge of his bed and pondered what he could possibly have tucked away in his closet that necessitated it to be locked.
My mind began to conjure up all sorts of possibilities that ranged from body parts stuffed in garment bags to a red room of pain a'la Fifty Shades of Grey.
I glanced at my watch and sighed. It was going on one o'clock and I needed to make haste, lest James returned earlier than planned.
I was about to retreat from the room when I suddenly had a memory of my Aunt Margaret.
She was always hiding things under her mattress.
'It's such a cliché, that no thief would even think to check there nowadays, Bella. This is where I'm putting the insurance papers and my grandmother's pearls!'
I knelt down and ran my hands between the mattress and the foundation. My fingers paused when I felt something metal. I fished it out and sat back on my heels in amazement.
It was a sliver key!
Thank you, Aunt Margaret.
I walked back to the closet and inserted it in the lock. The door opened with a creak and I peered inside, holding my breath at the unknown.
I let out a scream, clutched my heart, and felt my knees begin to buckle at the sight before my eyes.
Dozens of mannequins, all fully clothed and arranged in various poses, stared at me with painted eyes.
I stifled another scream, while I stood, transfixed at their lifeless faces. I swallowed convulsively as the bile threatened to rise from my throat.
Frightened yet fascinated, I noticed that every square inch of the walls were covered with what appeared to be clippings from magazines and catalogs.
It was like a scene from the Twilight Zone; I nearly expected Rod Serling's ominous voice narrating the fact that I had taken a wrong term at the signpost.
All of the clothing appeared to be arranged by color, fabric, and function. Outerwear to the left, casual garments to the right, formal attire in the center, and his shoes and boots were stacked neatly according to style on a series of shelves in the rear. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it revolved and that there were actually several rows of garments, one behind the other.
A clothing carousel ….
A sudden memory of a movie I'd enjoyed as a girl came to mind; Clueless. I recalled that the heroine, based on the Jane Austen classic, Emma, had one of these contraptions in her closet.
Fascinated, I pressed the button located on the side of the doorway.
My mouth dropped as I watched the rows of clothing whirl past me in a blur of color and fabric.
Slacks, dress shirts, jackets, suits, tuxedos, shorts, polo shirts, tennis whites, dress blues, and business casuals, paraded around the room like some kind of macabre fashion show.
A row of assorted hats buzzed past and I grabbed at them helplessly like a child trying to secure the golden ring from a Dobby horse at a carnival.
Leaving them to trot on by, I walked over to the center of the room where a massive cabinet stood, littered with notes, tags, labels, and what appeared to be swatches of fabric. To the rear of the cabinet was a dressmaker's dummy with a note pinned to its side that seemed to be some sort of instructions.
*White dress shirt
*Red tie with dark blue stripes
*Dark tan slacks. Flat waist no cuffs
*Haworth-Adams cuff links (Gold, embossed with college crest)
*Single breasted navy blazer with gold buttons
*Overcoat (in case of rain; be sure to check weather report before leaving)
*Cordovan loafers, with tassel
Puzzled and bewildered, I looked around the room in awe.
This wasn't a gentlemen's closet; it was a costume shop!
And that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks
James Witherdale wasn't simply a college recruiter groomed to become the next Dean of Admissions: he was an actor playing a part.
And judging from the outfits flying past, he was playing more than one role.
I slammed my fist on the button and the closet carousel came to a grinding halt with a sickening screech.
My heart pounded as I fingered the costumes carefully.
I reached for a familiar looking jacket, plucked off the tag, and took it over to a small banker's lamp that was plugged into the cabinet. I turned on the switch and looked it over carefully.
Returning from the Moor on a rainy day
1. Wax cloth Barbour
4. Change for vending machine
5. White handkerchief with Witherdale monogram (In case she weeps)
In case she weeps?
My knees finally buckled and I fell to the carpeted floor with a thud.
James had sought me out.
I wasn't some random woman he met by chance.
He hunted me, Isabella M. Swan, PhD.
The air began to feel stale and suffocating as I imagined a tomb might feel hours after the coffin lid was closed.
I scrambled to my feet and dashed for the door, knocking one of the mannequins on its back.
His lackluster eyes stared back at me; his alabaster arm pointed in my direction, accusingly.
Grimacing, I picked him up and set him right, straightening his formalwear as best I could.
My stomach began to lurch and I darted for the opening of the door quickly, only to slam face first, into the door jam.
The curse word, unexpectedly, flew out of my mouth.
I never swear; not ever. Jasper would have been proud.
At the thought of Jasper, I burst into tears.
What in the ever lovin hell were you thinking, darlin? I could hear his words as plainly as if he had been speaking directly into my ear.
My hand sought out my already bruised cheek and I checked it frantically for blood. I was relieved to note that it only appeared to be swollen.
I fled to the kitchen and opened the sub-zero freezer in search of ice cubes, but there was nothing more than a solid block of ice. Frustrated, I grabbed a bag of frozen peas and placed it on my aching face.
I dashed to the bathroom and stared at my face for ages, trying to reconcile the image before me with the person I knew myself to be; a strong, educated woman who was worthy of respect and love.
I threw up, violently,and then cleaned the mess with a bottle of Windex and paper towels. The clear blue of the cleaner made my stomach churn, but I cleaned the mess as best I could and dumped the wad of debris into the bin where it landed with a plop. I bagged the trash and put in a fresh liner, increasingly aware of the passage of time.
Although I had no desire to return to the closet, I had no choice; I didn't want James to know that I had been in there rummaging through his things.
I went back in the costume shop, (for I refused to call it a closet) and reluctantly, straightened it out as best I could; praying that he wouldn't spot anything amiss. After thirty-odd minutes, my task was complete. I began to walk back into his bedroom and tripped once again just at the opening of the door. This time I caught myself before I fell, but when I looked down to see what, if anything, I was tripping on, I happened to notice a small impression in the rug. Putting the light back on, I knelt down and ran my fingers over the lush, beige, floor covering. My fingers paused as I realized it was a square of carpeting that served as a patch,concealing something underneath its plush fiber depths.
I managed to pluck it out by lifting one of the corners with my barrette.
There, under the square, was what appeared to be a trap door. It had a small, brass ring which I pulled upward to see what it was hiding.
Inside the hallowed out flooring was a large box. I lifted it out carefully; anxious to see what was inside but at the same time, also dreading it; oh, the hideous possibilities!
But I needn't have worried.
For all my imagination that was already conjuring up the dried out skull of a woman who had, unwittingly, crossed James's path which led to her unfortunate demise, it was nothing of the sort. I let out a huge sigh of relief.
It was an old-fashioned Rolodex, the kind my aunt used for her numerous professional contacts, long before the invention of the Blackberry and thumb drive.
I flipped through the cards rapidly, trying to see whose names were listed and for any other information that might shed some insight into James's head.
I didn't have to look long.
Recently came into a 2.5 million dollar fortune upon the death of her mother, Irene D. Maxwell, a distant relative of the Maxwell House Coffee Corporation.
Currently lives in Newport, Rhode Island.
A large red X anchored all four corners of the card with a scribbled note: Married in June.
Shaking, I sat back on my rear end to secure myself lest I toppled. This man was a predator and possibly insane!
I didn't bother reading the profiles in chronological order, although there appeared to be hundreds of names. At that point, I was only interested in one.
My heart sank when it stopped on the name I knew would be lurking inside its cardboard depths under the letter S.
Occupation: College Professor. Haworth-Adams
Came into a fortune via inheritance from Aunt Margaret Frances Higginbotham (mother was a Barclay from Beacon Hill)
Quiet, unassuming, likes long strolls through the forest and Jane Austin
Estimated worth: 5.8 million dollars
'Bella, I know you'll find this hard to believe, since we have always lived so simply; but when I die you will become a very wealthy young woman. My mother was a Barclay; she was the daughter of a wealthy banking tycoon from Boston. Please don't let that prevent you from becoming all that you are; I never did. I want you to enjoy this money; spend it as you wish, but don't tell any man who fancies you anything about it before you are certain he holds the key to your heart.
I had nodded at her in astonishment; she'd never given me any indication that she was wealthy nor had I ever thought to ask about her family history.
I was his prey.
Shaking and distraught, I shoved the Rolodex back into its hiding place and covered it with the carpet square. I looked through the closet carefully and it appeared to be in the same order as when I first entered it an hour earlier.
I was his prey, I was his prey, I was his prey …
The words kept circling around my brain like a hawk.
I grabbed my keys, and teacher bag then exited the apartment as fast as I could, considering how badly my knees were shaking. I vomited in the bushes and fairly threw myself in my car. I have no remembrance of driving to my cottage, or entering in my front door.
But once inside, I began to calm. Jasper will tell me what to do, I thought to myself. He'll make it right.
I listened, absently, to my messages while I brewed a pot of tea; Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer. Jasper had bought it for me only yesterday, claiming if ever a tea was more aptly named, given my situation, he couldn't think of one.
Bella, Jesus Christ … where in the HELL are you? You never answer your cell phone and you never read your texts.
I didn't want to do this over the phone …
James Witherdale is dead. He was killed in a car crash six months after he graduated from Oxford. I've got a copy of his death certificate right here in front of me
Don't do anything stupid. We'll confront him together in Berty's office the minute I return.
Please call me as soon as you get in, okay?
I dropped the kettle I was holding and the water sloshed all over the counter, badly scalding my hands in the process.
'Fuck!' I screamed out loud for the second time that day.
I ran my hands under cold water trying to remove the sting and pain of both the burn and the confirmation that James Witherdale was not only a predator, but also not James Witherdale at all.
So, then … who was he?
The burns on my hands were worse than I thought, but I had no time to run myself to the college nurse (a gossipy old biddy on the brink of retirement) who was bound to ask too many questions, so, I put on some Neosporin and bound them in soft white bandages. Once that task was done, I knew I had no choice but to call Jasper and tell him what I had found in James' apartment.
He is going to be furious with me, I thought to myself as I picked up the phone.
The phone in my hands began to ring before I even finished dialing; talk about timing!
'Jasper!' I cried in relief.
'I was just about to call you. Listen, I know you're going to be angry with me, pissed, as you say … but, I decided to go over to James' place and get my things; I just had to be done with that man.
I got your texts about your grandmother's stroke and I know you were en-route to the airport; I hope she's okay.
But listen, before you start to scream at me, I wanted you to know what I discovered about James while I was there. I know for a fact that he isn't who he claims to be, I knew it before I even listened to your voice-mail telling me that he's an impostor.
You-you need to come home as quickly as you can … We need to go to Dean Berty and call the police … We …,' I babbled incessantly.
I heard a throat clear, followed by a familiar chuckle that didn't sound at all like Jasper's.
My blood ran cold.
'Three things, darling.
'One, this isn't your beloved Jasper, it's James.
And two, I already knew you had been here earlier today, mucking about my closet, and sticking your nose where it doesn't belong.
Tsk, tsk … I found your treasured barrette with the blue sapphires lying on the floor near the door. You're so very careless, Isabella; a real life absent-minded professor if there ever was one.
Pity, you and your beloved Jasper, couldn't have kept your mutual suspicions to yourselves, darling.'
I began to whimper.
Which brings me to number three; Jasper isn't in Texas, we, bumped into each other at Logan this morning just before he boarded and had quite the riveting chat.'
MY heart dropped to my stomach and my phone fell to the floor. I wrapped my hands around my knees and began to rock back and forth like a child trying to soothe myself from a nightmare. I closed my eyes willing myself to wake up, for surely this had to be a bad dream.
But I could hear his enunciated, oh so very British words, as clearly as if he was sitting beside me, letting me know that I was, in fact, very much awake.
'Oh, and four …
If you ever want to see your chubby, odd little chap again, I suggest you pick up your keys and drive back over here for another visit; he's starting to chafe from the restraints.
'Now then … Shall I make tea'?
Author's Note: Part Two is mostly written and should be ready soon.
I know I was an epic fail at responding to reviews last chapter so an apology to those I missed and a big thank you to all!
PS: If you haven't read the one shot I wrote last weekend, "I'll Always be Your Edward," why not give it a whirl? It's a quick read and an homage to all the wonderful fic writers in this crazy place we call home!