He moved quickly, entering the garage from the inside connecting door. He switched on the light and groaned at the contents of the pick-up. There was a considerable amount of burnt and partially burnt papers, folders, files and generally unrecognisable debris. The wreckage of Maria's computer was embedded in congealed soot. He had no idea if the hard drive could be rescued. Delaney decided he must first sort the usable from the detritus and totally ruined. There would be time later to evaluate what he had.
Carefully, Delaney began to dissect and sift through burnt documents, letters, emails, photographs and files. He sorted any usable CDs and DVDs. Hours later, covered in dust and grime, he had assembled a stack of black bags filled with trash and a neat pile of potentially usable material that he placed carefully inside a small suitcase.
Next, he turned his attention to Maria's computer, gently removing the soot, grime and broken glass then separated the components of the hard drive's motherboard. He knew that it might be possible to rescue data and he knew where to take it. Finally, he took the black bags outside and stashed them in the trunk of the car. He took the suitcase back into the house and then returned, moved the pick-up onto the drive and thoroughly cleaned the vehicle and then started on the garage. It was undertaken with military precision and Delaney finished off by inspecting everything minutely. Finally, he drove the pick up back to parking lot, locked it and walked back to the house. By the time he was satisfied, it was past midday so he made more coffee and settled down to examine the contents of the suitcase.
It was a painstaking process. It was dark and the moon was up by the time he had finished. He had rescued pages of Maria's address book, filled with names, addresses and telephone numbers. He recognised a few but the rest were a mystery. He noticed that Maria had separated her business contacts from personal so this helped. There were pages of typescript, articles she had written, most of them incomplete, singed and discolored. He recognised some of the editorial as being published material. There were also some handwritten notes, personal letters and bank statements. Virtually nothing was complete in itself. He could make out sections of stories she had written and he could read some of the notes she had made. But most of the material had been obliterated, ripped, torn and blackened. He couldn't tell if the material was current or old and dated. The process was proving more difficult than he imagined. It was one thing, he now realised, to be able to salvage readable material, but quite another to understand its possible relevance to her murder.
When he had completed the first stage of assessment he moved to the second. He began to copy down anything that appeared to be unusual or interesting. He copied every name, address, telephone number and email address he could find and tried to place them in some kind of order. He rejected anything that he recognised as being archived material and this left him with snippets of notes, all of which he copied meticulously into a spiral bound notebook. At this point he had decided against inputting anything into his laptop. A few names cropped up more than once, and then he managed to disentangle some papers welded by the flames that revealed some notes that were dated. Delaney breathed a sigh of relief.
At last, a piece of tangible evidence.
The date was recent, only a few weeks before Maria's disappearance and murder. Delaney was tired and his eyes ached but his instincts told him this could be important. One word appeared several times, once underlined with a row of question marks after it.
The word was Lifeforce.
It meant nothing to Delaney. Then, using a pair of tweezers, he carefully lifted a friable sheet from a congealed mass. What was written on the sheet, even though browned and distorted, leapt out at him. It was headed with the word Lifeforce and under it were two names: Lena Maclean and Dr. Ruth Velasquez. Only one of those names had a telephone number scrawled by its side.
That name was Lena Maclean.
Then he saw another entry on the edge of a section of burnt paper hanging by a thread from the sheet. It was in Maria's handwriting. It said: 'Meeting Oct 8'.
The date she was murdered.
Delaney stopped breathing. Then he gulped back air. He shivered and it wasn't because of the breeze ruffling over the white horses out on the bay.
Three names and a date. All connected.
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