Structural Damage – Chapter 24

The cab ride seemed to take forever. When Sabrina was riding with the police, the drive seemed short. However, now that she wanted to try to find an end to this nightmare, everything was slowing down. She had no desire to deal with people in the building lobby, and frankly, she didn’t want to deal with the security staff either. She asked the cab driver to let her out at the entrance to the parking garage. He obliged, and she walked up the ramp towards the private elevator. Right now, she was on auto-pilot. As the elevator took her to her floor, she quickly texted Chris to let him know that she was dealing with a problem and would call him later that night. She didn’t want to talk to him when she was this worked up. Plus, she didn’t know how to tell him she was a possible murder suspect.

She entered the apartment and dropped her purse and keys on the entryway table. Taking a page directly from Chris’ playbook, she walked straight into the kitchen and poured a glass of whiskey. No measuring needed, she needed to get as much alcohol in her system, as quickly as possible. Before she could get too inebriated, she made a quick call to the firm where Kyle had been working in Austin. She figured they needed to know he was dead, she had no idea if the FBI would inform them or not. It was not a call she wanted to make.

Sabrina talked to George Denby, the principal at the firm, he said all the right things about how sorry he was to hear about Kyle. She knew he was just polite. After all, it wasn’t really nice to speak ill of the dead. George Denby knew that Sabrina and Kyle were divorced and did not speak, but he offered to box up the office and send Chapman’s belongings to her. She didn’t really want them to be honest. But, it would be best to get the box and filter through it, just to make sure there wasn’t anything she needed to burn. George asked about the apartment where Kyle lived in Austin. Right now, she wasn’t sure what to do with it or the place he had in Chicago. She would deal with that another day. Frankly, she was disgusted that it was even falling on her to consider these things. Damn she hated Kyle Chapman and even in death he was haunting her.

As she hung up the phone, she took another swig of whiskey. She could feel the buzz coming on, the numbness taking over. She quickly topped off the glass and was prepared to take another drink when she heard the knock on the door. She was not yet too drunk to get up and answer the door, although her coordination was a little off. She opened the door, bracing herself against it to make sure she didn’t completely fall over.

“Have you been drinking?” Audrey asked as she walked into the apartment and took in Sabrina’s appearance. She watched as Sabrina pushed herself away from the door and stumbled back towards the kitchen. She noticed the half-empty bottle of whiskey on the counter, “Good grief, please tell me that bottle wasn’t full when you started drinking?”

“Um, no, it wasn’t full. Chris started drinking it last night. But I am determined to finish it today. Do you want one?” Her words were starting to slur. Audrey shook her head then stepped forward and snatched the bottle from her hands. “Hey, that’s mine, you can’t do that!”

“I can, and I am. You need to sit your ass down before you fall down and tell me what is going on. Your text message said it was urgent. Does this have to do with Chris? Did something happen with you two?”

“Nope!” Sabrina shook her head, a little too enthusiastically. “Nothing has happened, yet. And this has nothing to do with him. Ok, maybe it does a little.” She was trying to gesture to show just how little but it wasn’t working, her coordination was off thanks to the whiskey. “The big problem is fucking Kyle. Did you know my idiot ex got himself murdered, and the FBI thinks that I, did it? How do you like that shit? I’m being investigated for murder, Audrey. Now give me back my bottle, I’ve got reasons to get drunk.”

Audrey did need a drink but not whiskey, she walked over and grabbed a bottle of wine. She opened it and poured a glass. She could at least keep her wits about her with this, but she knew she would not be able to make it through this entire conversation without some kind of alcohol. But before things went further, she needed to get something out of the way. “Sabrina, did you ask me to come over here as your friend or as your attorney?”

Sabrina gave her a questioning look, “What kind of question is that? It doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Yes, it actually does matter. It’s important, and I need to have this answered before you tell me anything else. Did you want to talk to me as your friend or as your attorney?”

Sabrina let out a huff, “I need you to be both!” She was exasperated with the questions and had no idea why they were spending time on this. “I need a friend, and I need an attorney, I want you to be both. I trust you, Audrey, and I miss you. I need your help, so please, will you help me?”

Audrey could see the fear in her friend’s eyes. “You know I’m only a corporate attorney, I can’t help you if they file criminal charges and you go to court. Let me call Gunnar, he practiced criminal law, he will help, I know it.”

Sabrina’s eyes widened in fear, “No! I only want you; I don’t want anyone else to know about this.” Immediately the tears began to spill down her cheeks, “Please, Audrey, I’m begging you.”

The last time Sabrina had been this despondent had been right after she had filed for divorce when she was hiding from Kyle. Her emotions had been in check for a long time now, always composed and putting on a strong façade. Honestly, Audrey couldn’t even remember the last time she witnessed Sabrina drunk. It was just something she didn’t do. This is how she knew she was rattled and everything she was about to be told would be jarring and unexpected. She took her glass of wine, and the whiskey bottle, and made her way to the barstool next to Sabrina and took a seat. Keeping the whiskey out of Sabrina’s reach, she settled in and figured it was time to get to the questioning, “You said Kyle was murdered? What happened and how did you find out about it?”

Sabrina began to nod her head and then sniffled, “I had an FBI agent and Police Detective show up here at the apartment, right after Chris left this morning. They wanted to know if I knew someone named Kyle Chapman and if I was aware of any family members, other than myself. When I told them that was my ex-husband and he had no family, they told me they found his body this morning and wanted to know if I would make a formal identification. I agreed, changed my clothes and went to the morgue with them. Once I confirmed it was Kyle, they asked if I would be willing to answer some questions about him so they could help find the person who killed him.”

“Well, to me, that seems entirely reasonable. You were married to the man for years; it makes sense they would ask you questions about him. So, what happened next?”

“I get asked the usual questions like how long we were married, where did he live now, etc. They told me he had a place in Chicago, which I didn’t know. Then in the middle of their questions, this female agent come in and starts asking questions,” Sabrina stopped and took a drink of whiskey. She paused and waited for the burn to hit her stomach before she continued. “Out of the blue, she comments that I haven’t asked how he died, and that makes her curious. I told her, his body washed up on North Shore Drive, which meant he was in the water, and since the motherfucker couldn’t swim I guessed he drowned.”

Audrey had to stifle a laugh, “Please tell me you didn’t say it like that to her?” Sabrina nodded her head as she took another drink. “Shit, you had a valid point, but you can’t be sarcastic and nasty to the FBI. That casts suspicion on you and shows them how much you hated him.”

“Oh, it’s okay, she already knew I hated him. She knew he had been blackmailing me for the last ten years; she knew I didn’t like him and had reasons to be less than sympathetic that he was dead.”

This was news to Audrey. Sabrina had never told her that Kyle was blackmailing her, and certainly not for the last ten years. There is no way that her best friend could have kept a secret this big away from her, right? “What do you mean that Kyle was blackmailing you? How in the hell did I not know this?”

Sabrina drank the rest of the amber liquid in her glass, with her head bowed, she answered Audrey’s questions. “No one knew, I didn’t tell a single person. Well, I mean, Chris knows now because he saw me fighting with Kyle on Saturday night and wanted answers. But before that, I didn’t tell anyone, I was too scared to let anyone know.”

Audrey rose from the barstool and began pacing back and forth through the kitchen area. Like Sabrina, pacing helped her think, and right now she needed her brain to help figure out a way out of this mess. Her blood pressure was off the chart at the moment. She tried to calm herself down because she knew if she started to talk it would turn into yelling; that would not be suitable for this situation. No, she needed to figure out how to ask the questions she needed to ask without inflaming the situation. The best way to do it was to break down what Sabrina was telling her into small bites that she could easily digest.

“I have a ton of questions, but I am going to do this in small chunks. Let’s get the biggest issue out of the way first. What did Kyle have on you that allowed him to blackmail you?”

Sabrina took a deep breath and exhaled, the words tumbling out as she did. “Sex tapes, he had tapes that he recorded of us being intimate when we were married. He wanted to release them to porn sites, make money off of them, embarrass me in the process, and ruin my reputation,” her words were coming out in staccato, she was starting to sob.

“Kyle set up a nanny cam to record the two of you having sex? Dear heavens, he really was a sick son of a bitch. When did this come out?”

“During the divorce proceedings, when I threatened to file charges against him for assault.”

“So that is why you hurried and settled your divorce before going to court?” Sabrina nodded slowly, acknowledging that Audrey’s recollection of the facts was accurate. “He told you to pay, he’d keep this quiet.”

“Yeah, the building collapse happened around this time, too. And his price to me was going to help him pay off his debt to the mob. I’ve paid him a monthly fee, every month, every year.”

“Sweet Jesus, Sabrina, that’s ten years’ worth of payments to him. What he did would have been a felony, so with the beating and the extortion, and the videos without consent, he would have gone to jail for a while. Why in the hell didn’t you tell me about this?” Sabrina didn’t answer, in fact, she couldn’t even look Audrey in the eye. Instead, she studied her empty glass carefully, turning it in her fingers like she was hoping the amber liquid would reappear. “Please tell me you have some record of these payments? They were by wire transfer or check, but you didn’t send him cash, right?”

Sabrina finally looked up, “Never sent cash, always a wire transfer each month. Occasionally he would send me a text message to remind me to make a payment or to raise the amount. He taunted me, I think he thrived on it. He said things that made me believe he was watching me, so I always had to watch my back.”

“So, we can add stalking to the list of charges, and it never dawned on you to call the police?” Her voice was bitter and hateful; she didn’t mean to be, but it was hard not to be angry over this. Her best friend let her ex-husband manipulate and blackmail her for ten years – this was something she could not wrap her brain around. “I don’t get how a smart woman, such as yourself, could be so stupid. I’m dumbstruck, there is no other word for it.”

“So, the FBI thinks you killed Kyle? Did they come out and say that to you directly?”

“I realized they were looking at me as a suspect and said I wanted an attorney. I asked if they were arresting me and the agent told me no, not today. I got up to leave and asked what reason did I have for killing Kyle. She responded that I had ten million reasons. That’s when I knew I was really in trouble.”

“Why is that significant? What am I missing?” Audrey took a sip from her wine glass and then moved to stand against the far kitchen wall, she was facing Sabrina at the bar.

“Kyle had new pictures of me, and he had initially wanted 1.5 million but when realized who the other person in the picture was, he changed the price to ten million. He made that change at the gala, when we were arguing outside and when I threatened to kill him.”

Audrey slid down the wall, she rested her arms on her knees. She could not believe what she was hearing. Her brain was now on overload, and she wasn’t quite sure how to decipher all of it, much less process it. She ran her hands through her hair, trying to figure out the best way to approach the next line of questions for Sabrina. In looking at her friend, she could see the pain and confusion in her face. This was not easy for her, and she was visibly shaken.

“Have you talked to Chris since you found out that Kyle is dead?” Sabrina shook her head; she didn’t trust her mouth to form words. “He saw you fight with Kyle, you mentioned that earlier, but did he hear what you were fighting about? Did you tell him?”

Sabrina looked over at the bottle of whiskey, it was not within arm’s length. She would have to stand up to get it, and she didn’t trust her legs. But she knew that for her to continue this conversation, she was going to need liquid courage. She would hold off for now and hope that breathing deep and trying to stay calm would be enough. But she wasn’t so sure of that.

“Chris didn’t hear our fight, but I told him about Kyle that night. I had never told him I was married or divorced; he wasn’t thrilled with that news, as you can imagine. I told him about what led to our divorce, and I admitted to the blackmail from the sex tapes. I didn’t say there were new pictures.”

“Yeah, about those new pictures,” Audrey stopped in mid-sentence when she noticed that Sabrina was trying to stand up and make a move for the whiskey bottle. Her movements were tentative since she didn’t trust herself not to fall. But when she grabbed the bottle she immediately sat back down. She didn’t bother with a glass this time, she just unscrewed the top and tossed it to the side and began drinking straight from the bottle.

“I fucked up, Audrey,” Sabrina whispered as she wiped her wrist across her mouth. “When Chris and I were locked in my apartment that first weekend, we had a lapse in judgment and had sex against the open window.” Audrey’s gasp was out of her mouth before she could stop it. Her hands flew to her mouth immediately. “Yeah, you see where I’m going with this. Kyle was evidently watching my apartment and took pictures of us and was blackmailing me for the new set of photographs.”

Audrey ran her fingers through her hair; she didn’t think things could get worse and yet they did. “If Kyle only wanted 1.5 million, to begin with, he didn’t know who was in the picture with you. He figured it out at the gala, which is why his price went up, right?”

Sabrina pointed at her and yelled, “BINGO! I’ve seen a few of the pictures, and while I’m on full display, Chris isn’t recognizable. His head is down, his tattoos aren’t visible, and there is nothing that makes you think I am with Captain America. So, I was going to pay my low-life ex-husband, and he was going to go away,” she took another swig from the bottle.

Audrey wanted to yell and scream but knew that it wouldn’t do any good. But she was angry. She was mad at Kyle for putting them in this situation and mad at Sabrina for not stopping Kyle years ago. “Do you have any idea what it will do to Chris’ career if pictures like that are released? I don’t give a shit that you had sex with him in the window, but the idea that you did it when you knew that Kyle was stalking you, that is what infuriates me. You were playing with fire, and now you are getting burned. With him dead, what do you think is going to happen with the pictures? I’m sure you didn’t have ten million to pay him on Saturday night?” Her tone and temperament were rising. She couldn’t help it, even with her humiliation with Chris, she couldn’t help but defend him.

Then an awful thought crossed her mind. What if Sabrina did kill Kyle to get the pictures and keep from paying him. She’d already admitted she knew he couldn’t swim and she fought with him on the pier. She didn’t say which part of the pier they were on. She could have easily pushed him from the far side, and the currents washed him up on North Shore Drive.

“Sabrina, you didn’t kill Kyle to get the pictures, did you?”

“What?!” She was so surprised at Audrey’s question that she almost lost the grip on the bottle in her hand. “I would have loved to have killed him, believe me. I even threatened to kill him if he approached Chris, but I wouldn’t have done it. It’s a figure of speech, Audrey, that’s all.”

“I know it’s a figure of speech, but when a person is pushed to the brink, it becomes a crime of passion. You threatened him to protect Chris. How far would you have gone to protect the two of you?”

“Not that far! I can’t believe you even had to ask that,” Sabrina took another drink and didn’t hold back the tears that began to well up in her eyes. She had made a significant leap of faith in calling to invite Audrey over to the apartment. She had needed to talk to someone that she could trust and who might understand where she was coming from; she thought Audrey was that person. Now she was beginning to wonder if that was a bad idea. Maybe she should have just kept this all to herself.

Audrey stood up from her place on the floor and made her way to the barstool where Sabrina was sitting. She sat down next to her and put her arm around her shoulder, pulling her towards her. “I’m sorry, I just had to ask. The Sabrina I’ve always known wouldn’t, but you’ve thrown me for a loop with the fact that you’ve kept a pretty extraordinary secret these last ten years. I never thought you were capable of that, either.”

Sabrina’s shoulders shook as the sobs took over her body. There was nothing Audrey could do except hold her friend and attempt to comfort her. The question bouncing in her mind was the status of the pictures; she was pretty sure that Sabrina was worried about them as well. If the transfer didn’t take place, Kyle had them when he was murdered. Did his killer take the SD card? And if Kyle didn’t know who Chris was, there’s a good chance his killer doesn’t either. Audrey was starting to side with Sabrina on this, Chris didn’t need to know, at least not yet. Hopefully, if the FBI wanted to talk to Sabrina again, they could shed some light on this before they had to come clean with Chris.

Within a few minutes, Sabrina’s tears subsided, and her breathing went back to normal. Audrey suggested that she go upstairs to sleep off the alcohol and she reluctantly agreed. Audrey helped Sabrina up the steps and onto the bed, she then pulled the door shut, letting her friend drift off to sleep.

When Audrey returned downstairs, she decided to make a phone call, “Hey, Chris, sorry to bother you. Do you have a minute?”

“Uh, sure. I gotta admit Audrey, I didn’t expect to hear from you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m calling about Sabrina. But before you get all worked up, she’s fine. Look, I’m at the apartment, and she’s sleeping off half a bottle of whiskey.”

“Christ, what happened?”

“Before you left Chicago, did you see the story about the body that washed up on North Shore Drive?” She heard him respond with an ‘uh-huh’ before continuing. “Today she found out that it was her ex-husband, Kyle. She had to identify the body and then she was questioned by the FBI and the Chicago PD. She’s a suspect, Chris.”

“Whoa! Wait a minute,” he was more than worked up at this point. He could not believe what he was hearing. “Audrey, she couldn’t have killed him. She argued with him on the pier, but he was alive when she came back inside. Then she was by my side the rest of the evening until she received her award. Then she was on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Then we went back to the apartment together, and we argued about Kyle. So, she had no opportunity to kill the guy.”

“I know, but they will investigate if she contracted someone to do it for her.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“No, I don’t. But, I figured the two of you were probably supposed to talk tonight, and she is in no condition. I didn’t want you to worry, so I thought I should reach out. I’m staying here for a while to make sure she’s okay.”

“Thanks, Audrey. I’m glad that you two are patching things up, she misses you.”

“Yeah, well I miss her, too. Bye, Chris.”

~ * ~
Special Agent Cherie Coleman was salivating at the stack of transcripts that were in front of her. The audio technicians had finally finished going through all of the information on the watch. When she met with Sabrina Burnham a few days ago, they had only transcribed the first hour or so of the audio; that is how she had the information about the $10 million dollars. While she wanted to know where the pictures were, she was laser focused on who actually killed Kyle.

After four hours of intense reading, she finally had her answer. She picked up her phone and called her Director, “I’ve got what we need to put away Chapman’s killer. He was wired, the entire exchange is recorded.”

“Great! Reach out to the Federal Prosecutor and start the paperwork, let’s get this wrapped up. Meet me in the office at 9 am tomorrow for a briefing,” the Director was beaming, this would be a big break for the department, and he was beyond excited. “And Coleman, good work.”

~ * ~
Several days had passed, and Sabrina had been on pins and needles. She had not heard been contacted by the FBI or the Chicago PD in regards to their investigation of Kyle’s death and how they thought she might fit into that puzzle. She spoke with Audrey almost every day to strategize if something would happen.

She had also talked to Chris but had been careful in what she had said to him. She had told him that Kyle had died and that the FBI had uncovered he had been blackmailing her. Because of this, they considered her a suspect in his death. It was believable, and to a certain degree, it was accurate. Sabrina just left out that the blackmail was recent and the pictures had him in them as well.

Chris expressed his concern for her, but she convinced him that she was okay. She was doing her best to believe that herself. In reality, the conversations with him and the attempts to maintain normalcy were helping.

~ * ~ Saturday Morning~ * ~
The sky was dreary and overcast, the perfect kind of weather for a funeral. The morgue had released Kyle’s body, and since he had no family, Sabrina was the only person to claim it and keep it from being thrown into a pauper’s grave. She originally refused to claim it, she was suspected of killing him, why would she bury him? He blackmailed her and treated her like shit for years, why should she show any decency and give him a funeral? Her heart and her brain were at war with one another.

She had dinner with Audrey and Gunnar and told them about the battle she was waging. Neither of them attempted to sway her decision, they let her argue both sides and see if she could come to her own conclusion. They honestly found it amusing; they were sitting back in their chairs watching her volley back and forth with herself and trying to maintain their composure. After twenty minutes or so, Sabrina finally rested her case, although she had no clear decision.

After allowing some silence to pass, Gunnar leaned forward and offered his opinion. “You know, I realize he was a lousy husband at the end, and he wasn’t must better as a human being in general. But you are a good person. You know he has no family, and as much as you hate him, you’d hate yourself if you didn’t step in and give him a proper burial. Not only that, Sabrina, giving him a funeral of some sort gives you closure. Ends this chapter of our life and allows you to formally move on.”

Sabrina was surprised with his assessment; so was Audrey for that matter. But she did think that Gunnar had a point. Maybe she did need to formally close this chapter to allow herself to move on. “If I do this, will you guys come? I don’t think I can do this by myself.”

“Absolutely,” Audrey spoke up, “I’ll be there for you. After all, I’ve known him for as long as you have, it would only seem right. Are you going to do a big funeral or just something small?”

“Small, just a graveside service with no fanfare. I’m not even doing an obituary. He had no friends, he had turned most people against him. I’m not trying to be rude or hateful, but realistic.”

Within a few days, she had purchased as casket and a plot at the cemetery where Kyle’s parents were buried. The arrangements were finalized, and it was time to put him to rest. Gunnar drove, Audrey was seated in the front with him and Sabrina in the backseat. She thought the weather was the perfect setting for the day and the emotions she was feeling.

The pastor officiating the service was aware of the circumstances and had agreed to keep it short. No waxing poetic on what a great guy he was or how he would be redeemed in the afterlife. Sabrina was astonished that she actually did feel a bit of emotion as the service concluded. Knowing that at one point, he was a good man and his life took a sinister turn. One day she might be able to forgive him, but that was not going to be today and most likely wouldn’t be tomorrow, either.

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