“Alex here.” Focused on the argument he was drafting, Alex Webster answered his phone absently, knowing that whoever had his office’s private line was someone with whom he was on a first-name basis.
“Hello, Alex.” A soft, female voice made him start and drop his pen, marring the page with a smear of black ink.
“Who is this?” He tore the page from the tablet, mashing it tightly into a ball before throwing it away.
“Rory Cullers. I’m writing for American Faces.”
He slammed the phone down, glowering at it.
Minutes later, it rang again. The caller ID showed the same phone number. He jerked the phone off the cradle. “Lady, I don’t know how you got this line, but I did not invite you to use it.” He glared at the empty page before him as he spoke, hating the idea of starting over all because of some no-name reporter. Alex hated the media. Period. Just how the hell did she get this number? Whichever idiot secretary was responsible for this was going to be fired before the day was out.
“I realize that, Alex, but there’s no need to hang up on me again. That’s not very good press, after all.” She didn’t sound the least bit intimidated by him. Worse, she had a point.
He hit the speaker button on his phone and stormed away from his desk to help himself to a drink from his office mini-bar. “Julie’s memory should be left in peace.”
“Exactly, Alex, I agree wholeheartedly.” Her voice echoed in his office. He gulped the whiskey as he walked back toward the phone and slammed the empty glass onto his desktop. If the woman heard the noise, she didn’t react. Instead, she kept talking, irritating him even further. “You know as well as I do that it won’t be. She’s going to be front-page news for awhile; therefore, I would like to propose that you and I help each other out on this. I have a story to write and you have a memory you would like laid to rest, correct?”
He said nothing.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“How would I know you?”
“Julie and I grew up together.”
“Actually, you and I grew up together, more or less.”
He had to sit down. Rory! His brain began screaming that this was Rory Haverly, not some clueless reporter. The same Rory that Richard always ranted about. How was it he had forgotten that she and Julie were friends?
“Rory Haverly?” His chest felt tight. His throat constricted. Thirty-five-year-old men had heart attacks. It was possible. Perhaps he was having one. They’d find him in rigor mortis in this very chair. All because a little mouse called him.
“I’d like to meet with you tomorrow morning, if possible, to learn more about Julie’s last year. I want to write about what she was like before the tragedy and not glorify the murder for thrill-seekers. I want to honor her memory as much as anyone who loved her. Would you be willing?”
Alex quelled the urge for another shot of whiskey. A drink in the middle of the day was bad enough, though he certainly deserved it after watching the noon news and Charles’s self-serving plea for his stepdaughter’s killer to come forward. Who in his right mind, murderer or not, would willingly admit to such a crime? Then again, guilt made people do strange things. Or so Alex assumed while Charles monopolized the television screen and subtly campaigned for some future election. Caskets did make ideal soapboxes.
His office line hadn’t stopped ringing since the moment the news broke; his secretary fielded those, telling reporters that Mr. Webster was in meetings, yes he knew about Julie, no he wasn’t granting interviews, and he had no remarks regarding Mr. Sarazen. And when pressed further, his secretary said, “I’m sorry I can’t comment on that” and politely hung up.
“Well, Rory, I have to admit that I forgot you and Julie were friends. Some days that life seems like a century ago. You two were pretty close, weren’t you?”
“We were while growing up, though distance was a problem in college. We kept in touch with letters and an occasional phone call, but… well, we drifted a bit. We had different lives. Then, well, you know what happened.”
He leaned back, loosening his collar and tie. Yes, I know exactly what happened, he thought. Julie went away and never came back to me. “She wrote letters?”
“We both did. She always said that it was more fun to open a real letter than stare at something on a screen.”
He was silent for a moment. Julie had written letters to Rory. What was in them?
“Alex, I’m sorry to bring all of these memories to the surface.”
Sorry? That was doubtful. Despite Isadora’s best attempts, Rory had always been tactless. Apparently, she hadn’t changed much. Taking a deep breath and forcing himself to sound professional, he decided it was time to take control of the conversation. “Nonsense, Rory. The media would have dredged all this up anyway. If you’re sincere about doing Julie’s memory justice, I’ll talk with you for your little article first thing tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I need you to do something for me.”
“I can certainly try.”
“If you still have them, could you bring copies of Julie’s letters? Of anything you have? Forgive me, Rory, I just can’t seem to get over her.” He played his fingers through his hair, remembering how Julie used to do it for him. She’d softly run her fingers through until he was so relaxed he’d agree to anything. She had said she loved the mix of brown and blonde; loved the waves when it got too long. He kept it short now, never allowing it to get back to that length.
“I’ll see what I can do. But I should warn you, they are not particularly telling. She was intensely private about her personal life, even with me.”
“Would you be so kind as to humor me, at least? After all, I am clearing my schedule to meet with you.” A hint of irritation crept into his voice, despite his efforts. How hard can it be to bring a few mementos to a grieving man, damn it?
“As I said, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I can fit you in at eight, before my first meeting. I trust you know where to find me.” The tightness was going away. Julie was coming back to him tomorrow.
Rory gave a soft laugh, “I wouldn’t be an ace reporter if I didn’t, now would I? Fifth floor of the Horne Building. I’ll see you tomorrow at eight. Again, thank you... Alex.”
He cradled the phone, and then leaned back into his chair, pondering. The little mouse was going to write about his Julie. And him as well. This could be very good press for me.
Richard, he decided, did not need to know about this little piece of luck.