Chapter 16

AT three in the morning, Tia tried Mike's phone yet again.

No answer.

The Boston Four Seasons was beautiful and she loved her room. Tia loved staying in fancy hotels-who didn't? She loved the sheets and the room service and flipping the television by herself. She had worked hard until midnight, burying herself in preparation for to- morrow's deposition. The cell phone sat in her pocket, set on vibrate. When it wouldn't go off, Tia would pull it out and check the bars and make sure that she hadn't maybe missed the vibration.

But no calls came in.

Where the hell was Mike?

She called him, of course. She called the house. She called Adam's cell phone. Panic played at her fringes; she tried hard not to let it all the way in. Adam was one thing. Mike another. Mike was a grown man. He was ridiculously competent. That was one of the things that first attracted her to him. Antifeminist as that might sound, Mike Baye made her feel safe and warm and fully protected. He was a rock.

Tia wondered what to do.

She could get in the car and drive home. It would take about four hours, maybe five. She could be home by morning. But what exactly would she do when she arrived? Should she call the police-but would they listen so soon and really what would they do at this hour?

Three A.M. Only one person she could think to call.

His number was on her BlackBerry, though she had never actually used it. She and Mike shared a Microsoft Outlook program that contained one address and phone book, plus a calendar, for both of them. They synchronized their BlackBerrys with each other and in this way, the theory went, they would know each other's appointments. It also meant that they would have all the other's personal and business contact information.

And in that way, it showed they had no secrets, didn't it?

She thought about that-about secrets and inner thoughts, about our need for them, and as a mother and wife, her fear of them. But there was no time now. She found the number and hit the SEND button.

If Mo had been asleep, he didn't sound like it.


"It's Tia."

"What's wrong?"

She could hear the fear in his voice. The man had no wife, no kids. In many ways, he only had Mike. "Have you heard from Mike?"

"Not since about eight thirty." Then he repeated: "What's wrong?"

"He was trying to find Adam."

"I know."

"We spoke about that around nine, I guess. Haven't heard a word since."

"Did you call his cell?"

Tia now knew how Mike had felt when she'd asked him something equally idiotic. "Of course."

"I'm getting dressed as we speak," Mo said. "I'll drive over and check the house. Do you still hide the key in that fake rock by that fence post?"


"Okay, I'm on my way."

"Do you think I should call the police?"

"Might as well wait until I get there. Twenty, thirty minutes tops. He might have just fallen asleep in front of the TV or something."

"You believe that, Mo?"

"No. I'll call you when I get there."

He hung up. Tia swung her legs out of the bed. Suddenly the room had lost all appeal. She hated sleeping alone, even in deluxe hotels with high-thread-count sheets. She needed her husband next to her. Always. It was rare they spent nights apart and she missed him more than she wanted to say. Mike wasn't necessarily a big man, but he was substantial. She liked the warmth of his body next to hers, the way he kissed her forehead whenever he got up, the way he'd rest his strong hand on her sleeping back.

She remembered one night when Mike was a little out of breath. After much prodding, he had admitted to feeling a tightness in his chest. Tia, who wanted to be strong for her man, nearly collapsed when she heard that. It had ended up being bad indigestion, but she had openly wept at just the thought. She pictured her husband clutching his chest and falling to the floor. And she knew. She knew then and there that someday it could very well happen, maybe not for thirty or forty or fifty years, but it would happen, that or something equally horrible, because that was what happens to every couple, happy or not, and that she simply would not survive if it happened to him. Sometimes, late at night, Tia would watch him sleep and whisper to both Mike and the powers that be: "Promise me I'll go first. Promise me."

Call the police.

But what would they do? Nothing yet. On TV the FBI rushes out. Tia knew from a recent update on criminal law that an adult over eighteen could not even be declared missing this close in, unless she had serious evidence that he'd been kidnapped or was in physical danger.

She had nothing.

Besides, if she called now, the best-case scenario was that they'd have an officer stop by the house. Mo might be there. There could be some sort of misunderstanding.

So wait the twenty or thirty minutes.

Tia wanted to call Guy Novak's house and talk to Jill, just to hear her voice. Something to reassure. Damn. Tia had been so happy about this trip and getting into this luxurious room and throwing on the big terry cloth robe and ordering room service and now all she wanted was the familiar. This room had no life, no warmth. The loneliness made her shiver. Tia got up and lowered the air-conditioning.

It was all so damn fragile, that was the thing. Obvious, sure, but for the most part we block-we refuse to think about how easily our lives could be torn asunder, because when we recognize it, we lose our minds. The ones who are fearful all the time, who need to medicate to function? It is because they understand the reality, how thin the line is. It isn't that they can't accept the truth-it's that they can't block it.

Tia could be that way. She knew it and fought hard to keep it at bay. She suddenly envied her boss, Hester Crimstein, for not having anybody. Maybe that was better. Sure, on a larger scale, it was healthy to have people out there you cared about more than yourself. She knew that. But then there was the abject fear you would lose it. They say possessions own you. Not so. Loved ones own you. You are forever held hostage once you care so much.

The clock wouldn't move.

Tia waited. She flicked on the television. Infomercials dominated the late-night landscape. Commercials for training and jobs and schools-the only people who watch TV at this crazy hour, she guessed, had none of those things.

The cell phone finally buzzed at nearly four in the morning. Tia snatched it up, saw Mo's number on the caller ID, answered it.


"No sign of Mike," Mo said. "No sign of Adam either."

LOREN Muse's door read ESSEX COUNTY CHIEF INVESTIGATOR. She stopped and silently read it every time she opened the door. Her of- fice was in the right-hand corner. Her detectives had desks on the same floor. Loren's office was windowed and she never closed her door. She wanted to feel one with them and yet above them. When she needed privacy, which was rare, she used one of the interrogation rooms that also lined the station.

Only two other detectives were in when she arrived at six thirty A.M. and both were about to head out when the shift changed at seven. Loren checked the blackboard to make sure that there were no new homicides. There were none. She hoped to get the results from the NCIC on the fingerprints of her Jane Doe, the not-a-whore in the morgue. She checked the computer. Nothing yet.

The Newark police had located a working surveillance camera not far from the Jane Doe murder scene. If the body had been transported to that spot in a car-and there was no reason to think someone carried it-then the vehicle could very well be on the tape. Of course, figuring out which one would be a hell of a task. Probably hundreds of vehicles would be on it and she doubted one would have a sign on the back reading BODY IN TRUNK.

She checked her computer and yep, the stream had been downloaded. The office was quiet, so she figured, well, why not? She was about to hit the PLAY button when someone rapped lightly on her door.

"Got a second, Chief?"

Clarence Morrow stood outside her doorway and leaned his head in. He was nearing sixty, a black man with a coarse gray-white mustache and a face where everything looked a little swollen, as if he'd just gotten into a fight. There was gentleness to him and unlike every other guy in this division, he never swore or drank.

"Sure, Clarence, what's up?"

"I almost called you at home last night."


"I thought I figured out the name of your Jane Doe."

That made Loren sit up. "But?"

"We got a call from the Livingston PD about a Mr. Neil Cordova. He lives in town and owns a chain of barbershops. Married, two kids, no record. Anyway, he said his wife, Reba, was missing and, well, she roughly matched your Jane Doe's description."

"But?" Muse said again.

"But she disappeared yesterday-after we found the body."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. The husband said he saw her that morning before he went to work."

"He could be lying."

"I don't think so."

"Did anyone look into it?"

"Not at first. But here's the funny thing. Cordova knew someone on the police force in town. You know how it is out there. Everyone knows someone. They found her car. It was parked at the Ramada in East Hanover."

"Ah," Muse said. "A hotel."


"So Mrs. Cordova wasn't really missing?"

"Well," Clarence said, stroking his chin, "that's the funny thing."

"What is?"

"Naturally the Livingston cop felt like you did. Mrs. Cordova hooked up with some lover and was late getting home or something. That's when he called me-the Livingston cop, that is. He didn't want to be the one to tell his friend, the husband, this news. So he calls me to do it. As a favor."

"Go on."

"So what do I know-I call Cordova. I explain that we found his wife's car in a local hotel lot. He tells me that's impossible. I tell him it's there right now, if he wants to go see it." He stopped. "Damn."


"Should I have told him that? I mean, thinking back on it. Might have been an invasion of her privacy to tell him. And suppose he showed up there with a gun or something? Man, I didn't think that through." Clarence frowned under his coarse mustache. "Should I have kept quiet about the car, Chief?"

"Don't worry about it."

"Okay, whatever. Anyway, this Cordova refuses to believe what I'm suggesting."

"Like most men."

"Right, sure, but then he says something interesting. He says he first started to panic when she didn't pick up their nine-year-old daughter from some special ice-skating class in Airmont. That wouldn't be like her. He said she'd planned to spend some time at the Palisades Mall in Nyack-he said she likes to buy the kids basics at Target-and then head over to pick up the girl."

"And the mother never showed?"

"Right. The ice rink called the father's cell phone when they couldn't reach the mother. Cordova drove up and picked the kid up. He figured that maybe his wife got stuck in traffic or something. There was an accident on 287 earlier in the day and she was bad about keeping her cell phone charged, so he was concerned but didn't go into full panic when he didn't reach her. As it got later and later, he got more and more worried."

Muse thought about it. "If Mrs. Cordova met up with a boyfriend at a hotel, she might have just forgotten to pick up the kid."

"I agree, except for one thing. Cordova already went online and checked his wife's credit card records. She had been up at the Palisades Mall that afternoon. She did indeed buy stuff at Target. Spent forty-seven dollars and eighteen cents."

"Hmm." Muse signaled for Clarence to take a seat. He did so. "So she goes way up to the Palisades Mall and then comes all the way back down to meet the lover, forgetting her kid who is getting skating lessons right near the mall." She looked at him. "Does sound weird."

"You had to hear his voice, Chief. The husband's, I mean. He was so distraught."

"I guess you could check with the Ramada, see if anybody recognizes her."

"I did. I had the husband scan a photo and e-mail it over. No one remembers seeing her."

"That doesn't mean much. New people are probably on duty and she could have sneaked in after, I don't know, her lover checked in. But her car is still there?"

"Yep. And that's weird, isn't it? For the car to still be there? You have your affair, you get back in your car, you drive home, or whatever. So even if it was an affair, wouldn't you think by now it's an affair gone wrong? Like he grabbed her or there was some violence-"

"-or she ran away with him."

"Right, that could be it too. But it's a nice car. Acura MDX, four months old. Wouldn't you take that?"

Muse thought about it, shrugged.

Clarence said, "I want to look into it, okay?"

"Go for it." She thought about it some more. "Do me a favor. Check and see if any other women have been reported missing in Livingston or that area. Even if just for a short while. Even if the cops didn't take it too seriously."

"Already did it."


"None. Oh, but some woman called to report her husband and son were missing." He checked his pad. "Her name is Tia Baye. Husband is Mike, son is Adam."

"The locals looking into it?"

"I guess, I don't really know."

"If it wasn't for the missing kid too," Muse said, "maybe this Baye guy ran off with Mrs. Cordova."

"You want me to look for a connection?"

"If you want. If that's the case, it's not a criminal matter anyway. Two consenting adults are allowed to disappear together for a little while."

"Yeah, okay. But, Chief?"

Muse loved that he called her that. Chief. "What?"

"I got a feeling there's something more here."

"Go with that then, Clarence. Keep me in the loop."