They were all students from Eastern State University. Further reading told of a fire that had burned down one of the buildings on campus, killing one hundred thirty-two college kids—at night. Before asking why that many kids would be in the basement of a school building that late, I turned the page to find my answer—a floating fight ring, and the Maddox look-alike was a suspect.
“Keep reading,” he said, his back still turned to me.
Almost immediately, two names jumped out at me—Maddox and Abernathy. After a few more pages, it all came together, and I looked up at my boss. “Your brother is married to Abernathy’s kid?”
Maddox sighed, finally facing me. “I wish I were. They’re renewing their vows at the end of next month in St. Thomas…so the family can attend. Their first wedding was in Vegas almost a year ago—”
I held up the paper. “Just a few hours after the fire. She’s a clever one.”
Maddox walked slowly over to his desk and sat down again. His inability to sit still was making me even more nervous than he appeared to be.
“What makes you think it was her idea?” he asked.
“He doesn’t seem like the type to let his girlfriend save him,” I said, recalling his posture in the photos.
Maddox chuckled and looked down. “He’s not the type to let anyone save him, which is why this is going to be particularly hard. Special Agent Polanski insists I need backup, and I have to agree with him.”
“I’m going to have to break it to him after the ceremony.”
“That she married him to give him an alibi?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Abby might have married my brother for a reason, but that reason is because she loves him.” He frowned. “It will destroy him to find out the truth even if she was trying to save him.”
“Do you always do what’s best for your brothers?”
He looked down at the pictures I couldn’t see. “You have no idea.” He sighed. “I did what I could after the fire, but as you can see from the list of the dead, a ten-year sentence from Adam isn’t going to cut it. Adam was charged with two hundred sixty-four counts of involuntary manslaughter—two for each of the victims.”
“How did the District Attorney get away with that?” I asked.
“Adam was indicted under two different theories of the crime. Criminal negligence manslaughter, and misdemeanor manslaughter.”
“My hands were tied,” Maddox continued. “I couldn’t help my brother—until I let Polanski in on what made me one of the youngest ASACs in Bureau history. I had an in. He almost didn’t believe me. My little brother was dating and is now married to the daughter of a person of investigative interest in one of our bigger cases—Mick Abernathy. I got Polanski—with the director’s approval, of course—to waive the charges if Travis agreed to work with us, but cracking this case is going to take longer than his jail sentence might have been.”
“Yes. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
My face screwed into disgust. “Why tell him at his wedding?”
“I won’t tell him on his wedding day. I’ll do it the morning after, before I leave. It has to be in person, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. I don’t go home anymore.”
“What if he doesn’t agree to it?”
Maddox blew out a long breath, wounded at the thought. “He’ll go to prison.”
Maddox turned a bit in his chair, his shoulders still tense. “Just…hear me out. It was one hundred percent the S.A.C.’s idea. He just happens to be right.”
“What?” My mind was racing, and my patience was wearing thin.
“I need a date for the wedding. I need someone else from the Bureau to attend and witness the conversation. I don’t know how he’ll react. A female agent will be a good buffer. Polanski thinks you’re the perfect candidate.”
“What about Val? What about Constance?”
Maddox cringed and then stared at his finger while he tapped it on his desk. “He suggested someone who would fit in.”
“Two of my brothers are in love with women who…lack finesse.”
“I lack finesse?” I asked, pointing to the center of my chest. “Are you fucking serious?” I craned my neck. “Have you met Val?”
“See?” Maddox said, pointing at me with his whole hand. “That is exactly something Abby would say—or…Camille, Trent’s girlfriend.”
“Your brother Trent. And Travis. And you’re Thomas. Who am I missing? Tiger and Toadstool?”
Maddox wasn’t amused. “Taylor and Tyler. They’re twins. They’re between Trent and me.”
“Why the Ts?” I had to ask, but I was beyond annoyed with the entire conversation.
He sighed. “It’s a Midwestern thing. I don’t know. Lindy, I need you to go to my brother’s wedding with me. I need you to help me talk him into not going to prison.”
“It shouldn’t be that hard for you to convince him. The Bureau is a great alternative to prison.”
“He’ll be undercover. He will have to keep it from his wife.”
“He really, really loves his wife.”
“So do our other undercover agents,” I snapped, not feeling the slightest bit of sympathy.
“Travis has a past. His relationship with Abby has always been volatile, and Travis sees honesty as his commitment to their marriage.”
“Maddox, you’re boring me. Our undercover agents simply tell their significant others they can’t discuss their job, and that’s the end of it. Why can’t he just do that?”
“He can’t tell her anything. He’ll be undercover on an investigation that could implicate Abby’s father. That could certainly become an issue in their marriage. He won’t willingly risk anything that could mean losing her.”
“He’ll get used to it. We’ll just give him a simple, tight alibi and stick with it.”
Maddox shook his head. “No part of this is simple, Liis. We’ll have to be exceptionally creative to keep Abby from figuring it out.” He sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “She’s sharp as a goddamn tack, that one.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, wary of the fact that he’d used my first name. “The S.A.C. wants me to go. Do you?”
“Our being friends is a bad idea, but us posing as a couple for an entire weekend isn’t?”
“I’m assuming you don’t want me to shoot him if he does.”