Finding the police records of the people trapped in the QuickShop basement was considerably more hands-on than Abigail wished to get. It involved breaking, entering, and otherwise creeping around in the night-time—all things that Abigail was happy to instruct Alma to do, but Abigail was slightly paranoid that somebody would try to kidnap Alma again.
Abigail was initially surprised at the fact that she was even remotely concerned about Alma’s well-being. Then she thought about it a bit more and realized that what she was really concerned about was people knowing too much. Abigail liked to be the one to disperse the information. It was why she had tried to become a television journalist for a brief few months before not getting anywhere at all and switching to detecting. It was why she was the one to report back with the murders and fabricate the plots. It was why she tried to limit her partnerships to Alma Martìnez and Alma Martìnez only.
Unfortunately for Abigail, Alma may or may not have been kidnapped—Abigail pressed Alma for details and Alma cried that the experience had been “traumatic” and she couldn’t relay it—so some third party could know all about her illegal business, plus with Victor-Vincent and Richard running around, Abigail couldn’t take any more chances.
That was why she was the one attempting to break into the nearest police station instead of sending Alma out to do it for her. Abigail sighed, fogging up a window, and rubbed her hands over it. The receptionist was asleep—most people were, it was near midnight—and if Abigail could just crack the window open, she could probably crawl through without awaking anybody. But alas, the windows were equipped with bars—probably with the very purpose of preventing people of breaking in—and Abigail was stuck trying to find another way.
Popular culture had taught her to crawl through the vents. Popular culture had forgotten that vents tend to be too small for grown people, and Abigail wasn’t the picture of flexibility.
Abigail shook her left leg. If only something could pose as a distraction! If Abigail could fully trust Alma, she would have told Alma to cause some chaos with Vincent-Victor and Richard, but Abigail wasn’t in the habit of letting the traumatized hold positions of authority. Abigail considered calling the police herself, but they could track whose phone she was using, thus find her location, and, despite their inherent incompetence, pretty quickly figure out it was fraud. Abigail sighed again. She was going to have to do this the hard way.
Abigail preferred not to associate with garbage, yet there she was, behind the police station, throwing and ripping up bags of garbage from the woefully unlocked and reeking dumpster, in hopes somebody would suspect a raccoon. She went the full mile and extracted a broken thermometer from inside a bag, dangling it at a distance so that it could clang against the inside of the metal dumpster, occasionally scraping it to sound synonymous with claws.
Eventually, long after Abigail figured she would be stinking like the darkest day of winter for the following month, somebody inside the police station mumbled something about pests. Abigail ducked behind a very-stuffed garbage bag and inched towards the police station’s back door.
“I don’t know why I’m always the one cleaning up!” Thank goodness, it was Sandra! Sandra flung open the door—which was green, coincidentally, just like the dumpster, and coupled with Abigail’s red coat they looked like the picture of Christmas—and whipped around carelessly, periodically kicking a lumpy banana peel. Abigail took that as her opportunity to sneak through the creaking door.
“I’m just like Nellie Bly,” Abigail thought to herself, “but I’m pretending to be a raccoon instead of mentally ill.”
As she snaked around the police station, Abigail first had a minor flashback to her trips in the L-family house, then steadily gained an appreciation for Alma’s sense of direction. Abigail had literally no idea where she was going.
“Please state your name and rank before proceeding.”
“No,” Abigail replied quickly. She had reached a dead-end, complete with a concrete-grey door, and some audio-tape somewhere was suddenly commanding things of her—wait, it was a voice recording! Abigail threw on a fake accent.
“No,” she said again, slower, in some weird Texas-Minnesota mash-up. “Let me tell you, I’ve been in this station for longer than beans have been eaten with bread and I’ve never had to tell you my name or rank.”
The audio breathed in and out a few times. Clearly somebody in this station had issues with the new audio policy.
“Please, Officer Peters,” the voice pleaded, “just say your name and we’ll let you continue.”
“Fine!” Abigail shook her fist, really getting into character. “My name is Gerald O’Henry Peters and I am an Officer, as you know.” Something in the wall clicked and the door sprung open. “Thank you for opening this-here door, but mind you, if we ever need to go through this again, I will be filing a complaint.”
“Thank you, Officer Peters.” The voice sounded relieved. “You may proceed.”
A few paces into this mysterious, locked corridor, displayed an illuminated wall of portraits, the top of which was the real Officer Peters. His name was actually Arthur M. Peters and he looked nothing like Abigail, so either the police station didn’t have cameras of people were used to Mr. Peters forgetting his name and switching up his appearance.
Where to find the files? Abigail had already decided that it would make no sense talking to people—talking was a waste of time and only ever made the involved parties upset. She had to find the records of the QuickShop burials and read them for herself.
If only police stations were fit with signs! Abigail wandered around aimlessly, opening doors before shutting them back in frustration—without context, she would have looked awfully suspicious—and trying to keep quiet to avoid waking up sleeping workers.
If Abigail owned a police station, where would she keep the files? She would probably make Alma keep them, honestly.
Wait. Alma would keep them, because Alma kept track of things, and who keeps track of things? The receptionist! It always came back to receptionists!
A lot of bumping around later and Abigail was behind the receptionist’s desk. This receptionist looked like she had stepped out of an old newspaper, for she was wearing black and white and even the fleshy parts of her being were tinged with grey boredom. She was leaning against her right grey, bored hand while diluted grey coffee solidified in a mug grasped in her left. At the end of her desk was a box marked “Files.” And at the top of the box was a manilla enveloped labelled “QuickShop.”
Abigail deftly extracted the manilla envelope and crept back to the center of the labyrinthine hallways, away from anybody she could hear. The envelope was barely sealed and opened smoothly, and she pulled out the papers inside.
The first: “Abigail Hartford, Richard Lee, and two minors found trapped under the QuickShop; evening, November 8th.”
The second: “Steven Balm, George Wilkins, and one minor found trapped under the QuickShop: night, November 7th.”
The third: “Heather Hathaway and one minor found trapped under the QuickShop: evening, November 7th.”
The fourth: “Ruth Renee and one minor found trapped under the QuickShop: afternoon, November 7th.”
Abigail wondered who this elusive minor was.
The final: “Debbie LaBrown and one minor found trapped under the QuickShop: morning, November 7th.”
That made sense. Of course Debbie LaBrown was involved. Debbie LaBrown and her nosy United News wanted a quick, cheap story, and Abigail, who had actual standards, wasn’t delivering. Abigail had always thought that the news industry would be much improved if she was the one in charge, but none of the stations were willing to take her as the reporter. Hence why she was stuck with fabricating stories.
The minor was still troubling, though. Abigail couldn’t understand why any of these people would be concerned with a minor—
Alma. Of course it was Alma. Alma was the minor who had been trapped multiple times under the QuickShop—that was probably what she was trying to show Abigail when they all had gotten trapped. Alma had been crying for help! But why couldn’t she have just outright asked? Probably because she was being watched, yes, that was what it was, Alma was being watched and had to be subtle.
Abigail’s initial thought was that Debbie LaBrown had been the kidnapper, but then why would Alma have been trapped repeatedly with a variety of different results.
Because she was Debbie LaBrown, that was why. Debbie LaBrown was terrible at extracting information, so she had a whole coven of people repeatedly trap Alma and pry her open for information. Debbie LaBrown had an organization, an awful, evil, stalking organization, and one that Abigail could take down!
Debbie’s last name even began with an L! She was probably part of the L-family and had probably been abandoned due to some disgraceful scandal that rendered her the host of a minor news station and completely exempt from the will, and their family meeting was to discuss whether Martha wanted to ruler her out one last time before death, but Debbie was willing to do anything to be put back in, hence the kidnappings—oh, it was brilliant!
The world made sense! Abigail felt the golden light of clarity shine upon her.
Now she just had to find a way to get out of this building and find Alma, and protect her.
Something crackled and Abigail ducked into a shadow of the hallway, her ears wide open. A radio crackled and footsteps echoed closer.
“Break-in, involving an unnamed minor at the West Street Bakery,” the radio instructed. “The only evidence is an empty vial, everything else is undisturbed. The minor was found with De-“
If Abigail had any lingering suspicions, they had all been pacified. She practically sprinted off, no longer concerned if anybody heard her. If she could get to the West Street Bakery, she could catch Alma and Debbie LaBrown and frame her for the final time.
It’s amazing how bright the world becomes when one makes grand connections, Abigail thought. That was obviously contrasted by the dark prospect of Debbie LaBrown, a disrespected news anchor being a kidnapper, but Abigail wasn’t going to let the elated feeling of brilliance go unnoticed. It only took her what seemed like a few minutes to reach the West Street Bakery, which was, for some unknown reason, on a street called East Avenue, but Abigail wasn’t city planner either.
“Alma!” she hollered, grabbing a surprised Alma’s shoulder firmly. “Where’s Debbie LaBrown?”
“Debbie LaBrown?” Alma looked up, her eyebrows scrunched. “I’d imagine she’s at the United News filming station.”
“No, no, she’s here!” Abigail gestured around wildly. “Here with you and the robbery!”
Alma blinked a few times. “Abigail, typically you wait until after I come to you with details to spin your nonsense-“
Abigail shushed her. “Don’t be so loud! I was at the police station and they said there was a break-in here with you and Debbie LaBrown!”
Alma’s blinks turned rapid. “Well, there was a break-in, as you can see by the police cars.” Oh. Abigail hadn’t even noticed them, but there was undoubtedly a parade of flashing sirens and police officers, one of which looked uncannily like Sandra. “And I’m here. But Debbie LaBrown? Are you sure you heard that properly?”
“Yes, of course I did!” Abigail defended. “I heard the ‘De’ then I filled in the “Ebbie LaBrown, because who else would be here!”
“Oh!” Alma’s mouth rounded into a perfect o and her eyebrows shot up. “You mean that Detective Francis Muller’s here!”
“Detective Francis Muller? Who’s he?”
“I’m Detective Francis Muller.” Detective Francis Muller, apparently, popped up behind Abigail, startling her but not enough to jump. He looked like a young substitute teacher—shaky even when not scared and dressed formally in some attempt at proving authority. “I was instructed to patrol around here by the police station.” He whipped out a pad that looked suspiciously like Sandra’s and scanned it. “We’ve been having a plethora of break-ins around here, and I suspect-“
“That’s great.” Abigail waved her hand dismissively. “Unfortunately for you, Franny-“
“Francis. That’s Detective Francis Muller to you.”
“Sure, Franny. I just so happen to be a detective, and I’m handling this case.” Abigail crossed her arms.
“No, you’re not.” Franny crossed his arms right back. “I was the one sent here.”
“And I am the one who’s more competent.” Abigail snapped her fingers. Any light she had left over from her revelation was rapidly disappearing. “Case-in-point: I know how to go about an investigation. For starters, you don’t walk around ‘suspecting’ people like a player in Clue!”
“What’s going on here?” Sandra walked over, her matching pad poised under a pen.
“Nothing, dear.” Franny softly kissed her on the head. Of course. Relationships. Abigail did not understand people who were affection in public. Parents never walked around kissing their children on the head—her own mother could attest to that, though she firmly believed that children oughtn’t be kissed at all over the age of five—so why did couples?
“Is the drunk woman bothering you?”
“I’m not drunk,” Abigail insisted, “I’m a detective. Why is that such a difficult concept?” It was honestly no surprise the police were behaving incompetently; people in authority always seemed to. Speaking of incompetence, and surprisingly sudden importance: “Where’s Richard and Victor-Vincent?”
“Over there.” Alma pointed to a bench next to a radiating police car, where both lay curled up, sleeping. “I wanted to get us all dinner but then this break-in happened.”
“See?” Abigail prodded. “I got all that information. Tell me that you’re a better detective, Franny-“
“Francis!” he hissed. “Detective Francis Muller, we’ve been through this already!”
“I don’t care!” Abigail scoffed. “You don’t deserve the title of ‘Detective’ if you haven’t done any detecting!”
“Because you’ve done so much?” Franny quipped.
“Actually, I have.” The situation certainly wasn’t right—Abigail was hoping she could give her grand accusation on a large stage in front of an audience of devoted listeners, not in front of a wrongly-named bakery that had been supposedly broken into, despite the utter lack of a mess, shattered glass, or any evidence despite some elusive and useless empty vial—but Abigail’s light was fading, and she needed to salvage it.
She blinked a few times and gathered her thoughts. Debbie LaBrown was plotting her re-entry into the L-family will and had used her coven to kidnap Alma. Her reputation deserved a tarnishing and her position in the media a replacement, and Abigail deserved complete acknowledgement for connecting this so brilliantly.
Abigail could have said just that and been done quickly, but Abigail reminded herself that sometimes creativity must trump convenience. She had amply practice being dramatic, luckily. Abigail breathed in deeply and began her final monologue to the wide eyes of her three onlookers.
“The Beloved United News host Debbie LaBrown cannot and may not be trusted. She is a hazard to our community, to our children, and to our futures. She is not even trusted by her own family, as seen by her disgraceful exclusion from her anciently wealthy family’s will, and her vengeful spirit has stopped at nothing to regain that acceptance. Why do we trust her, then? Because she has deceived us all. She hid under the flashing lights and canned, stolen laughter of her sitcom-based news station, but in real life she was a filthy kidnapper, exploiting a band of actors to abuse children into supplying her with blackmail and false information to ruin her fair opponents.” Abigail spoke slowly and loudly, enunciating each syllable. “Debbie LaBrown cannot be trusted.”
The silent horror pulsing in tune with the police car’s sirens on Abigail’s audience’s faces confirmed that everything she said was received as true.