NASH was ready to strike.
He waited in the lot at the Palisades Mall in Nyack. The mall was pure Americana ginormous. Yes, the Mall of America outside Min- neapolis was bigger, but this mall was newer, crammed with huge megastores in a megamall, none of those cute little eighties-trendy boutiques. They had warehouse price clubs, expansive chain book-stores, an IMAX theater, an AMC with fifteen screens, a Best Buy, a Staples, a full-size Ferris wheel. The corridors were wide. Everything was big.
Reba Cordova had gone into Target.
She had parked her Aberdeen green Acura MDX far away from the entrance. That would help, but this would still be risky. They parked the van next to her Acura, on the driver's side. Nash had come up with the plan. Pietra was currently inside following Reba Cordova. Nash had also gone into Target briefly-to make a quick purchase.
Now he waited for Pietra's text.
He had considered the mustache, but no, that would not do here. Nash needed to look open and trusting. Mustaches did not do that. Mustaches, especially the bushy one he had used with Marianne, dominate a face. If you ask for a description, few witnesses go beyond the mustache. So it often worked.
But not for this.
Nash stayed in the car and prepared. He fixed his hair in the rearview mirror and ran the electric razor over his face.
Cassandra had liked it when he was clean-shaven. Nash's beard had a tendency to get heavy and could scratch her by five o'clock.
"Please shave for me, handsome," Cassandra would tell him with that sideways glance that made his toes curl. "Then I will cover your face with kisses."
He thought about that now. He thought about her voice. His heart still ached. He had long ago accepted that it would always hurt. You live with pain. The hole would always be there.
He sat in the driver's seat and watched the people walk back and forth in the mall parking lot. They were all alive and breathing while his Cassandra was dead. Her beauty had no doubt rotted away by now. It was hard to imagine.
His cell phone buzzed. A text from Pietra:
At checkout. Leaving now.
He gave his eyes a quick swipe with his forefinger and thumb and climbed out of the car. He opened the back door of the van. His purchase, a Cosco Scenera 5-Point Convertible Car Seat, the cheapest in the store at forty bucks, was out of the box.
Nash glanced behind him.
Reba Cordova wheeled a red shopping cart with several plastic bags in it. She looked harried and happy, like so many of the suburban sheep. He wondered about that, about their happiness, if it was real or self-inflicted. They had everything they wanted. The nice house, two cars, financial security, children. He wondered if that was all women needed. He wondered about the men at the office who provided this life for them and if they felt likewise.
Behind Reba Cordova, he could see Pietra. She was keeping her distance. Nash took in the surroundings. An overweight man with hippie hair, a rat-nest beard, and a tie-dyed shirt hoisted up his plumber-butt jeans and started toward the entrance. Disgusting. Nash had seen him circle around in his beat-up Chevy Caprice, spending minutes searching for a closer space that would save him from walking ten seconds. America the Fat.
Nash had positioned the van's side door to be near the Acura's driver's side. He leaned in and started fiddling with the car seat. The driver's side mirror was positioned so he could see her approach. Reba clicked her remote control and the back hatch opened. He waited till she was close.
"Darn!" he said. He said it loud enough for Reba to hear but in a voice that seemed more amused than annoyed. He stood upright and scratched his head as if confused. He looked at Reba Cordova and smiled in the most nonthreatening manner possible.
"Car seat," he said to her.
Reba Cordova was a pretty woman with small doll-like features. She looked up and gave him a nod of sympathy.
"Who wrote these installation instructions," he continued, "NASA engineers?"
Reba smiled now, commiserating. "It's ridiculous, isn't it?"
"Totally. The other day I was setting up Roger's Pack 'n Play- Roger's my two-year-old. Do you have one of those? A Pack 'n Play, I mean."
"It was supposed to be easy to fold up and put away, but, well, Cassandra-that's my wife-she says I'm just hopeless."
"So is my husband."
He laughed. She laughed. She had, Nash thought, a very nice laugh. He wondered if Reba's husband appreciated it, if he was a funny man and liked to make his wife with the doll-like features laugh and if he still stopped and marveled at the sound.
"I hate to bother you," he said, still being Mr. Friendly, hands down and spread, "but I have to pick up Roger at Little Gym and, well, Cassandra and I are both sticklers for safety."
"Oh, so am I."
"So I wouldn't dream of picking him up without a car seat and I forgot to switch our other into this car and so I stopped here to buy one... well, you know how it is."
Nash held up the manual and just shook his head. "Do you think maybe you could take a quick look?"
Reba hesitated. He could see it. A primal reaction-more a reflex. He was, after all, a stranger. We are trained by both biology and society to fear the stranger. But evolution has given us societal niceties too. They were in a public parking lot and he seemed like a nice man, a dad and all, and he had a car seat and, well, it would be rude to say no, wouldn't it?
These calculations all took mere seconds, no more than two or three, and in the end, politeness beat out survival.
It often did.
She put her bundles in the back of the car and started over. Nash leaned into his own van. "I think it's just this one strap over here..."
Reba moved closer. Nash stood up to give her room. He glanced around. The fat guy with the Jerry Garcia beard and tie-dyed tee was still waddling toward the entrance, but he wouldn't notice anything that did not involve a doughnut. And sometimes, it is indeed best to hide in plain sight. Don't panic, don't rush, don't make a fuss.
Reba Cordova leaned in and that spelled her doom.
Nash watched the exposed back of her neck. It took seconds. He reached in and pushed the spot behind her earlobe with one hand, while covering her mouth with the other. The move effectively shut off the blood to her brain.
Her legs kicked out feebly, but only for a few seconds. He dug in harder and Reba Cordova went still. He slid her in, hopped in behind her, closed the door. Pietra followed up. She shut Reba's car door. Nash took her keys from Reba's hand. He used the remote to lock her car. Pietra moved to the driver's seat of their van.
She started it up.
"Wait," Nash said.
Pietra turned. "Shouldn't we hurry?"
He thought a moment.
"What is it?"
"I will drive the van," he said. "I want you to take her vehicle."
"Because if we leave it here, they will realize that this is where she was grabbed. If we move her car, we may be able to confuse them."
He tossed her the keys. Then he used the plastic cuffs to tie Reba down. He jammed a cloth in her mouth. She started to struggle.
He cupped her delicate, pretty face in both hands, almost as though he were about to kiss her.
"If you escape," he said, staring into those doll-like eyes, "I will grab Jamie instead. And it will be bad. Do you understand?"
The sound of her child's name froze Reba.
Nash moved to the front seat. To Pietra he said, "Just follow me. Drive normally."
And they started on their way.
MIKE tried to relax with his iPod. Aside from hockey, he had no other outlet. Nothing truly relaxed him. He liked family, he liked work, he liked hockey. Hockey would only last so much longer. The years were catching up. Hard thing to admit. A lot of his job was standing in an operating room for hours at a stretch. In the past, hockey had helped keep him in shape. It probably was still good for the cardio, but his body was taking a beating. His joints ached. The muscle pulls and minor sprains came in greater frequency and extended their stays.
For the first time Mike felt on the downside of life's roller coaster- the back nine of life, as his golfer friends put it. You know it, of course. When you hit thirty-five or forty, you know on one level that you are no longer the physical specimen you once were. But denial is a pretty powerful thing. Now, at the tender of age of forty-six, he knew that no matter what he did, the slide would not only continue but accelerate.
The minutes passed slowly. He did not bother calling Adam's phone anymore. He would get the messages or not. On his iPod, Mat Kearney was asking the appropriate musical question, "Where we gonna go from here?" He tried to close his eyes, vanish in the music, but it wouldn't happen. He started pacing. That didn't do it. He considered driving around the block on a search, but that seemed stupid. He eyed his hockey stick. Maybe shooting on the goal outside would help.
His cell phone rang. He grabbed it without checking the caller ID. "Hello?"
It was Mo.
"I'll come over."
"Go to the game."
"I'll give the tickets to another friend."
"You don't have another friend."
"Well, that's true," Mo said.
"Look, let's give him another half hour. Leave the tickets at Will Call."
Mo didn't reply.
"How badly do you want to find him?"
"What do you mean?"
"Remember when I asked to look at your cell phone?"
"Your model comes with a GPS."
"I'm not sure I follow."
"GPS. It stands for Global Positioning System."
"I know what it stands for, Mo. What are you talking about with my cell phone?"
"A lot of the new phones come with GPS chips built in."
"Like when they do that triangulation on TV with cell towers?"
"No. That's TV. That's also old technology. It started a few years ago with something called a SIDSA Personal Locator. It was mostly used for Alzheimer's patients. You put it in the guy's pocket and it was maybe the size of a pack of playing cards and if he wandered off, you could find him. Then uFindKid started doing the same thing with kids' cell phones. Now it's built into almost every phone by every phone company."
"There's a GPS in Adam's phone?"
"Yours too, yes. I can give you the Web address. You go on, you pay the fee with a credit card. You click on and you'll see a map like on any GPS locator-like on MapQuest-with street names and everything. It will tell you exactly where the phone is."
Mike said nothing.
"Did you hear what I said?"
"And I'm on it."
Mike hung up. He hopped online and pulled up the Web address for his cell carrier. He put in the phone number, provided a password. He found the GPS program, clicked the hyperlink and a bunch of options popped up. You could get a month of GPS service for $49.99, six months for $129.99, or a full year for $199.99. Mike was actually dumb enough to start considering the alternatives, automatically calculating what would be the best deal, and then he shook his head and clicked monthly. He didn't want to think about still doing this a year from now, even if it was a much better value.
It took a few more minutes for the approval to go through and then there was another list of options. Mike clicked on the map. The entire USA appeared with a dot in his home state of New Jersey. Gee, that was helpful. He clicked the ZOOM icon, a magnifying glass, and slowly and almost dramatically, the map started to move in, first to the region, then the state, then the city and finally, right down to the street.
The GPS locator placed a big red dot right on a street not far from where Mike now sat. There was a box that read CLOSEST ADDRESS. Mike clicked it, but he really didn't need to. He knew the address already.
Adam was at the Huffs' house.