ATL Mysteries: The Disappearance of Eliot Wiley
The latest chapter of "The Disappearance of Eliot Wiley" is published! Read on, ATL detectives!
"Do you see anything"
The door wasn't the only thing broken. There was the TV, the floor lamp, the bowl where Eliot kept her keys. A vase lay in shards by the window. Framed pictures had cracked where they fell. Every bookcase had been turned over. The coffee table, the potted plant in the alcove. Couch cushions slashed open, their batting puffy on the floor. All the furniturethe desk, the bench, the caf̩ tablehad been thrown from their walls and heaped into the middle of the room. The armchair, which blocked the door from opening, was no longer upholstered, its springs in full view.
Karl had been here, Grant knew. Maybe the night before, yesterday. If Eliot's computer had been here, surely he would have found it, but with nowhere else to look, Grant started picking over the piles. He lifted the curtains that were puddled by their windows. He got to his knees to peer up the blocked chimney. In the hallway, he stepped around the ripped carpet to the bedroom, where the mess continued. Eliot's clothes had been torn from their drawers and hangers. Empty shoeboxes littered the floor. The mattress leaned on its side, a jagged line sliced through its center. Slivers of the mirror kept snapping beneath his shoes. He stood on a chair to squint through the air vents, picked at the loose tile in the bathroom. In the kitchen, he nudged the refrigerator out further, finding only dirt and dust behind it, two coils of uncooked pasta, a molded slice of cheese.
Grant rubbed his face and tried to concentrate. Where else could she have hidden her computer? He thought about the Braddocks in the main house, Eliot's landlords. Maybe she'd hidden it at their place. Maybe they'd know of some secret passageway or loose floorboard.
No one answered when he knocked or rang the doorbell. They must have still been out of town. Granted remembered the stack of AJCs he'd seen beneath their grill cover on Monday. Dozens of them, marking weeks since they'd been home. Eliot didn't have a key to their house anyway, so he started to walk back to her apartment. That's when it hit him.
He ran to the garage, where the grill stood in its same spot. Its cover was dusty with pine needles, but it lifted off easily enough. He raised the hood and there, where it had been all along, waiting, was Eliot's computer.
Jules answered before the phone had time to ring.
"I got it," Grant said. He'd returned to Eliot's kitchen where he found an outlet to charge the battery. "But I need a password."
"Forget the password. Whatever's on it, he can have."
"Not if you're going to stop him," Grant said, and then they both paused over the pronoun, the air heavy with what it implied.
"There were some passwords in the notebook," Jules said finally. "Let me get them out."
Grant heard Mallory in the background, asking what was going on, but Jules ignored her and read out the codes. "EW2211. EW2212," and so on. When those didn't work, they tried the digits below them, the initials scattered on other pages.
"Think," Grant said, more to himself than Jules.
"I don't know what else to try. It's just names and song titles and all these flowers she's drawn everywhere."
Grant scanned the living room, groping for some clue. He kicked at the heaps of pillow stuffing, the strewn baskets and downed curtain rods. The piles of paper around her desk. A small bookcase lay overturned by the window, so he put the phone down to pull it up. Books thumped from the shelves and knocked his ankles, heavy ones too, hardbacks. He knelt to shove them aside so he could walk back to the kitchen, but one of them fell open as he pushed it, landing on the page where its spine was split. A collection of Greek and Roman myths, he saw, the chapter on Demeter and Persephone. He didn't remember the story exactly, had never care much for mythology, but he recognized "Persephone" from chatting with Eliot over AIM her freshman year of college. It had been her screenname. He'd asked why once, when it was late at night and neither of them could sleep, but he didn't remember the details, only something about a mother and daughter divided by death. At the time, he'd felt bad for asking, as if fingering old wounds, but now he read the page hungry until he stopped short at a certain word.
"The flowers," he said. "Her drawings. What kind are they?"
"What? I don't know."
Mallory said something in the background.
"Oh, I see it," Jules responded, and then into phone. "They're poppies. On one page, she wrote-"
But Grant was already over the computer, pecking the letters on the keyboard. He hit "enter," and the start-up music chimed.
Jules kept talking, her voice excited, but Grant just stared at the screen. Its wallpaper was a photo from high school, just the two of them bent in a whisper, neither looking at the camera, the starts of laughter in their eyes. His leg bare of the cast, and the hair on that side of her head nearly shoulder-length, it must have been at least a year after the bombing, at some picnic table, in some park. He hadn't known the camera had caught them. He'd never even seen this picture until right now.
Grant had always thought of the bombing as the worst thing that ever happened to him. He grieved the pick-up basketball games, the trouble breathing when he heard the smallest noise. But with Eliot, in this picture, he looked unshakeable. So much stronger than he'd ever been before.
"Are you there?" Jules asked again.
"Yeah," Grant answered. "Sorry."
"Do you see anything?"
He read the file names populating the screen. "Computer." "VLC media player." "Adobe Acrobat." "Google Chrome." And there, at the bottom, was a folder titled with just three letters: "KBF."
His heart pulsing, Grant uploaded the two files in it to a Google Drive and sent the link to Jules. "Got it?" he asked after a second.
"Yeah. What is it?"
He said goodbye and hung up before she could respond. He had less than an hour left, and no idea how thick the traffic. His tires screeched as he pulled back into the road.
Over the phone, Karl had given him a street name, no number, but as he turned on Chastain Memorial Parkway, Grant recognized why. In high school, on the rare Saturday nights that he came to Buckhead to hang out with Eliot and her stoner friends, they'd ended up here, on this snaking wooded road behind Chastain Park. "Cocaine Lane," they had called it, still young enough to think they were the first. Clusters of tie-dyed teenagers would gather in the slopes lining this street, where, if they went back far enough and the trees weren't too bare, they could tuck into these folds for hours, howling at the moon. Grant hadn't cared much for weed back then, and the watery beers Eliot's friends had pilfered from their parents' 6-packs never seemed to justify getting drunk, even if they'd pooled enough of them to do the job, but he'd come a handful of times anyway. He remembered one night in particular, late summer, all of them tipsy with youth, when they'd laid on their backs in the grass as the words of Smokey Robinson drifted from the amphitheater. In your finest hour, I was there with you. If he survived the next thirty minutes, he swore to himself he'd listen to Smokey as he drove away.
Grant parked the truck in one of the shallow lots peppering the street and said a prayer. He got out, the gun tucked in his waistband, the computer like a shield over his chest, and tramped through the dead leaves toward one of the arbored picnic tables. He texted Karl, I'm here.
He wasn't late, but he wasn't early, so his foot started tapping when a few minutes passed with no answer. He checked the street name again, the time. And then, among the trees, he heard footsteps, some heavy and deliberate, other skimming the ground. He turned to meet them at the same moment they emerged: Susannah, white and trembling, a man behind her with a gun to her head.
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