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Suspicion

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Abbie plays with the pen in her hand nervously. After the slightly harrowing process that was getting here, she’s surprised to notice that if it weren’t for a kinda glowery guard at the door, the visitor’s room at Fishkill Correctional looks like any normal institution. She can easily imagine the wide, well-lit room as a cafeteria, or even a DMV.

That is, if you ignore the bars everywhere.

She lets out a breath, and decides to go over the materials she brought with her.

Dr. Ichabod Crane, the prisoner she's here to see, is certainly an impressive man. Holder of two PhDs in history and theology, a distinguished professor even before setting foot on American soil.

And currently serving a life sentence for murdering his wife, Elizabeth Crane.

It is this last thing that brings Abbie here, her curiosity pulling her into investigating Dr. Crane for her new true crime book.

She’d left eleven messages on his lawyer’s machine, with varying degrees of desperation, before she finally got a terse message from Crane himself asking to meet.

And now...he’s late.

She glances behind her at the clock, then turns back to Glowery, offering him a smile.

“Think maybe he’s stuck in traffic?”

The guard gives a huff she only guesses is meant to be a laugh.

Just then, the clanking of bars sounds out in the hallway and Glowery turns to open the door for another guard--whom Abbie dubs Scowly--and a tall handcuffed white man in a tan jumpsuit.

Abbie knows what Dr. Crane looks like--his trial had been very public and very documented--but she’s still taken aback by his handsomeness.

She stands up, brushing her hands on her pants, noting the way his messy hair falls across startling blue eyes and the kind of patrician nose that you just know has a long line of noble colonizers in its family tree. The only sign that he’s been in prison for almost a decade is a beard--which is still kind of neat for a con--that frames his mouth.

She reaches out a hand to shake his before she realizes he’s still handcuffed and held firmly by Scowly. She drops it with a small laugh.

“Dr. Crane, good to meet you. I’m Abbie--”

“Miss Mills, yes. Katrina spoke of you.”

Abbie watches as the guard uncuffs Crane, allowing him to sit on the bench across the table from hers. She waits until he moves a small distance away then retakes her seat, shuffling her papers until a reasonably clear space is between her hands and Crane’s.

“I suppose I should start by thanking you for agreeing to see me,” she says in a pleasant tone, meeting his eyes fully for the first time since he entered the room.

His lips twitch as if he just suppressed a smile.

“I don’t believe you’ll be thanking me for much today, Miss Mills,” he says drily.

Abbie pauses in the act of reaching for her recorder.

“Oh? Why do you say that?”

“Because I only agreed to meet to tell you that I am in no way interested in speaking about Betsy, and less inclined to do so with a reporter.”

“Oh, I’m not--”

“An even better reason not to speak to you, then,” Crane says rudely, then signals Scowly. “Officer Brekker, if you ma--”

“So are you always this big an asshole to people who wanna help you?” Abbie blurts out, then addresses Scowly--Officer Brekker. “Is he always this much of a dick?”

Officer Brekker shrugs and nods slightly before taking hold of Crane’s arm, pulling out the handcuffs.

“I beg your pardon,” Crane retorts. “I didn’t ask you to come here, Miss Mills.”

“Actually, you kind of did,” Abbie says, angrily shoving her notes and recorder back in her bag, cursing when a sheaf of papers falls to settle on the floor between her and Crane. “If you didn’t wanna see me, you could’ve just said --”

“What is that?”

It is not the interruption that stops her, but the weird tone in his voice. She glances up at him and almost gasps when she notices how pale he is--so pale that even Brekker seems concerned.

“Crane?” she asks softly.

He doesn’t answer, instead staring fixedly at one of the papers in her hands--a photograph, actually, of the late Elizabeth Crane. It is one of the photographs she’s uncovered during the preliminary research she conducted when she first decided to pursue this case. It isn’t a particularly remarkable photo--just a young laughing woman holding a glass of some dark-colored liquid in a dimly lit parlor where some sort of dinner party is going on.

Her hair is pulled back on one side, revealing a dangling earring that almost obscures a beauty mark on Elizabeth’s neck. Abbie doesn’t know why, but for some reason the picture had intrigued her so much that she’d begun looking into the case. Maybe it was the way the dinner party looked like some kind of Eyes Wide Shut deal. Maybe it was that it had taken place around the time she’d disappeared--days before, if Abbie guessed right. Either way, she’d included it in her notes as a curiosity, almost. But now Crane is looking at it as if he’s seen a ghost.

Maybe he has, Abbie thinks.

“Crane?” she asks again, and is relieved to see him snap out of it a little.

“Where did you get that?” he asks harshly, but not in the Asshole Tone from earlier--more like he’s on the edge of breaking.

“I just--I found it when I was researching. I thought it was interesting...is something wrong?”

Brekker’s hand tightens on Crane’s arm and it’s only when he does that she notices Crane has taken a step toward her. Even Glowery has put his hand on his baton in warning.

“Why did you keep this?”

“I just thought it was interesting? Elizabeth before her disappearance--what’s wrong? Why are you being all weird?”

Crane closes his eyes as if to gather strength then focuses those intense blue eyes on her.

“Miss Mills, have you authenticated that photograph?”

Abbie draws herself up, indignant that he’d question her research methods.

“Of course I have. Her own parents sent this to me. Are you done insulting me or should I pull up a chair?”

Crane takes a deep breath.

“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to--My apologies.”

“You gonna tell me why you’re being weird?”

His lips quirk and she relaxes a little.

“Off the record,” she teases, hoping to get more than just a smirk.

She gets it; a full-blown smile that makes her heart do the most in her chest--what the fuck is that about--but it doesn’t last. He turns somber almost immediately.

“Miss Mills, that photograph… it wasn’t taken before Betsy’s disappearance.”

Abbie narrows her eyes in suspicion. Is this bullshit?

“In fact, I’d bet my life that it was taken after her disappearance.”

He chuckles ruefully.

“I guess you could say I already have.”