Chapter 18

LOREN Muse watched the street surveillance tape from near where her Jane Doe's body was dumped. Nothing jumped out at her, but then again, what had she expected? Several dozen vehicles drove past that lot at that hour. You couldn't really eliminate any. The body could be in the trunk of even the smallest car.

Still she kept watching and hoping and when the tape rolled to the end, she had gotten a big fat goose egg for her trouble.

Clarence knocked and stuck his head in again. "You're not going to believe this, Chief."

"I'm listening."

"First off, forget that missing man. The Baye guy. Guess where he was?"


"A Bronx hospital. His wife goes away on business and he goes out and gets mugged by a hooker."

Muse made a face. "A Livingston guy going for a hooker in that area?"

"What can I tell you-some people like slumming. But that's not the big news." Clarence sat down without being asked, which was out of character. His shirtsleeves were rolled up, and there was a hint of a smile breaking through the fleshy face.

"The Cordovas' Acura MDX is still in the hotel lot," he said. "The local cops knocked on some doors. She's not there. So I went backward."


"The last place we knew where she was. The Palisades Mall. It's a huge mall and they got a pretty extensive security setup. So I called them."

"The security office?"

"Right, and here's the thing: Yesterday, around five P.M., some guy came in to say he saw a woman in a green Acura MDX walk to her car, load some stuff in, and then walk to a man's white van parked next to her. He says she gets in the van, not forced or anything, but then the door closes. The guy figures, no big deal except another woman comes along and gets in the woman's Acura. Then both cars drove out together."

Muse sat back. "The van and the Acura?"


"And another woman is driving the Acura?"

"Right. So anyway, this guy reports it to the security office and the guards are like, uh, so? They don't pay any attention-I mean, what are they going to do? So they just file it. But when I call, they remember and pull the report. First off, this all took place right outside the Target. The guy came in to make the report at five fifteen P.M. We know that Reba Cordova made her purchase at Target at four fifty- two P.M. The receipt is date-stamped."

Bells started clanging, but Muse wasn't sure where they were coming from.

"Call Target," she said. "I bet they have surveillance cameras."

"We're coordinating with Target's home office as we speak. Probably take a couple of hours, no more. Something else. Maybe important, maybe not. We were able to figure out what she bought at Target. Some kid DVDs, some kid underwear, clothes-all stuff for kids."

"Not what you buy if you plan on running away with a paramour."

"Exactly, unless you're taking the kids, which she didn't. And more than that, we opened her Acura in the hotel lot, and there is no Target bag inside. The husband checked the house, in case she stopped home. No Target stuff there either."

A cold shiver started up near the base of Muse's neck.

"What?" he asked.

"I want that report from the security office. Get the guy's phone number-the one who reported seeing her get in a van. See what else he remembers-vehicles, descriptions of the passengers, anything. I'm sure the security guard didn't go over all that with him. I want to know everything."


They talked another minute or two, but her mind whirred and her pulse raced. When Clarence left, Muse picked up her phone and hit the cell phone for her boss, Paul Copeland.


"Where are you?" Muse asked.

"I just dropped Cara off."

"I need to bounce something off you, Cope."


"Soon as possible."

"I'm supposed to meet my bride-to-be at some restaurant to final- ize the seating chart."

"The seating chart?"

"Yeah, Muse. The seating chart. It's this thing that tells people where to sit."

"And you care about this?"

"Not even a little."

"Let Lucy do it, then."

"Right, like she doesn't already. She drags me to all these things, but I'm not allowed to speak. She says I'm just eye candy."

"You are, Cope."

"Yes, true, but I have a brain too."

"That's the part of you I need," she said.

"Why, what's up?"

"I'm having one of my crazier hunches, and I need you to tell me if I'm on to something or going off the deep end."

"Is it more important than who sits at the same table as Aunt Carol and Uncle Jerry?"

"No, this is just a homicide."

"I'll make the sacrifice. On my way."

THE sound of the phone woke Jill up.

She was in Yasmin's bedroom. Yasmin was trying too hard to fit in with the other girls by pretending to be extra boy-crazy. There was a poster of Zac Efron, the hottie from the High School Musicalmovies on one wall, and another of the Sprouse twins from The Suite Life. There was one of Miley Cyrus from Hannah Montana-okay, a girl, not a hottie, but still. It all seemed so desperate.

Yasmin's bed was near the door while Jill slept by the window. Both beds were blanketed with stuffed animals. Yasmin once told Jill that the best part about divorce was the competitive spoiling-both parents go out of their way with the gifts. Yasmin only saw her mom maybe four, five times a year, but she sent stuff constantly. There were at least two dozen Build-A-Bears, including one dressed like a cheerleader and another, perched next to Jill's pillow, that was done up like a pop star with rhinestone shorts, a halter top, and a wire microphone wrapped around her furry face. A ton of Webkinz animals, including three hippos alone, spilled onto the floor. Back issues of J-14and Teen Peopleand Popstar!magazines littered the nightstand. The carpet was deep shag, something her parents told her had gone out in the 1970s but seemed to be making an odd comeback in teen bedrooms. There was a brand-new iMac on the desk.

Yasmin was good with computers. So was Jill.

Jill sat up. Yasmin blinked and looked over at her. In the distance, Jill could hear a rumbling voice on the phone. Mr. Novak. There was a Homer Simpson clock on the nightstand between them. It read seven fifteen A.M.

Early for a call, Jill knew, especially on a weekend.

The girls had stayed up late last night. First they went out for dinner and ice cream with Mr. Novak and his annoying new girlfriend, Beth. Beth was probably forty years old and laughed at everything Mr. Novak said like, well, like the annoying boy-crazy girls at their school did to make a boy like them. Jill thought you outgrew that at some stage. Maybe not.

Yasmin had a plasma TV in her room. Her father let them watch as many movies as they wanted. "It's the weekend," Guy Novak said with a big smile. "Have at it." So they microwaved some popcorn and watched PG-13 and even one R-rated film that would probably have freaked out Jill's parents.

Jill got out of bed. She had to pee, but right now she wondered about last night, what had happened, if her father had tracked Adam down. She was worried. She had called Adam's phone herself. If he was keeping away from Mom and Dad, okay, that made sense. But she had never considered the possibility that he wouldn't respond to calls and texts from his little sister. Adam always responded to her.

But not this time.

And that made Jill worry even more.

She checked her cell phone.

"What are you doing?" Yasmin asked.

"Checking to see if Adam called me back."

"Did he?"

"No. Nothing."

Yasmin fell silent.

There was a light rap on the door and then it opened. Mr. Novak popped his head in and whispered, "Hey, why are you guys awake?"

"The phone woke us," Yasmin said.

"Who was it?" Jill asked.

Mr. Novak looked at her. "That was your mommy."

Jill's body stiffened. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, sweetheart," Mr. Novak said, and Jill could see it was a great big lie. "She just asked if we could keep you today. I figured we'd go to the mall later or maybe a movie. How does that sound?"

"Why does she want me to stay?" Jill asked.

"I don't know, honey. She just said something's come up and asked the favor. But she said to tell you that she loves you and everything is fine."

Jill said nothing. He was lying. She knew it. Yasmin knew it. She looked over at Yasmin. It wouldn't do to press the issue. He wouldn't tell them. He was protecting them because their eleven-year-old minds couldn't handle the truth or whatever nonsense adults use to excuse lying.

"I'm going to run out for a while," Mr. Novak said.

"Where?" Yasmin asked.

"The office. I need to pick up some stuff. But Beth just stopped by. She's downstairs watching TV, if you need anything."

Yasmin smirked. "Just stopped by?"


"Like she didn't sleep here? Right, Dad. How old do you think we are?"

He frowned. "That's enough, young lady."


He closed the door. Jill sat on the bed. Yasmin moved closer to her.

"What do you think happened?" Yasmin asked.

Jill didn't reply, but she didn't like where her thoughts were taking her.

COPE came into Muse's office. He was, Muse thought, looking rather natty in his new blue suit.

"Press conference today?" Muse asked.

"How did you guess?"

"Your suit is natty."

"Do people still say natty?"

"They should."

"Agreed. I am the picture of nattiness. I am nattatious. The Natt Man. The Nattster."

Loren Muse held up a sheet of paper. "Look what just came in to my office."

"Tell me."

"Frank Tremont's letter of resignation. He is putting in for retirement."

"Quite a loss."


Muse looked at him.


"Your stunt yesterday with that reporter."

"What about it?"

"It was a tad patronizing," Muse said. "I don't need you rescuing me."

"I wasn't rescuing you. If anything, I was setting you up."

"How's that?"

"You either had the goods to blow Tremont out of the water or you didn't. One of you was going to look like an ass."

"Him or me, was that it?"

"Exactly. Truth is, Tremont is a snitch and a terrible distraction in this office. I wanted him gone for selfish reasons."

"Suppose I didn't have the goods."

Cope shrugged. "Then you might be the one handing in your resignation."

"You were willing to take that risk?"

"What risk? Tremont is a lazy moron. If he could outthink you, you don't deserve to be the chief."


"Enough. You didn't call me to talk about Frank Tremont. So what's up?"

She told him all about the disappearance of Reba Cordova-the witness at Target, the van, the parking lot at the Ramada in East Hanover. Cope sat in the chair and looked at her with gray eyes. He had great eyes, the kind that change color in different light. Loren Muse had something of a crush on Paul Copeland, but then again, she'd also had something of a crush on his predecessor, who was considerably older and couldn't have looked more different. Maybe she had a thing for authority figures.

The crush was harmless, more an appreciation than any kind of real-life longing. He didn't keep her up at night or make her hurt or intrude on any of her fantasies, sexual or otherwise. She loved Paul Copeland's attractiveness without coveting it. She wanted those qualities in whatever man she dated, though Lord knows she had never found it.

Muse knew about her boss's past, about the horror he'd gone through, the hell of recent revelations. She had even helped see him through it. Like so many other men she knew, Paul Copeland was damaged, but damaged worked for him. Lots of guys in politics-and that's what this job was, a political appointment-are ambitious but haven't known suffering. Cope had. As a prosecutor it made him both more sympathetic and less likely to accept defense excuses.

Muse gave him all the facts on the Reba Cordova disappearance without her theories. He watched her face and nodded slowly.

"Let me guess," Cope said. "You think that this Reba Cordova is somehow connected to your Jane Doe."


"Are you thinking, what, a serial killer?"

"It could be, though serial killers normally work alone. There was a woman involved in this one."

"Okay, let's hear why you think they're linked."

"First the MO."

"Two white women about the same age," Cope said. "One is found dressed like a hooker in Newark. The other, well, we don't know where she is."

"That's part of it, but here is the big thing that drew my eye. The use of deception and diversion."

"I'm not following."

"We have two well-to-do white women in their forties vanishing within, what, twenty-four hours of each other. That's a strange similarity right there. But more than that, in the first case, with our Jane Doe, we know the killer went through elaborate staging to fool us, right?"


"Well, he did the same with Reba Cordova."

"By parking the car at a motel?"

She nodded. "In both cases, he worked hard to throw us off the track with false clues. In the case of Jane Doe, he set it up so we would think she was a hooker. In the case of Reba Cordova, he made it look like she was a woman cheating on her husband who ran off with her lover."

"Eh." Cope made a face. "That's pretty weak."

"Yes. But it is something. Not to be racist, but how often does a nice-looking family woman from a suburb like Livingston just run off with a lover?"

"It happens."

"Maybe, but she would plan better, wouldn't she? She wouldn't drive up to a shopping mall near where her daughter takes ice-skating lessons and buy some kid underwear and then, what, throw them away and run to her lover? And then we have the witness, a guy named Stephen Errico, who saw her go into a van at the Target. And he saw another woman drive away."

"If that's what really happened."

"It did."

"Okay, but even so. How else are you tying Reba Cordova with our Jane Doe?"

Muse arched an eyebrow. "I'm saving the best for last."

"Thank God."

"Let's go back to Stephen Errico."

"The witness at the mall?"

"Right. Errico makes his report. On its own, sure, I don't blame the security guys at the Palisades. It sounds like nothing. But I looked him up on the Web. He's got his own blog page with his photo- graph-a big, heavy guy with a bushy beard and Grateful Dead shirt- and when I talked to him, he is clearly something of a conspiracy nut. Errico also likes to insinuate himself into the story. You know, the kind of guy who goes to the mall and hopes to see a shoplifter?"


"But that also makes him damn specific. Errico said he saw a woman matching Reba Cordova's description get into a white Chevy van. But more than that, he actually took down the van's license plate."


"I ran the plate. It belongs to a woman named Helen Kasner of Scarsdale, New York."

"Does she own a white van?"

"She does, and she was at the Palisades Mall yesterday."

Cope nodded, seeing where she was going. "So you figure someone switched plates on Ms. Kasner?"

"Exactly. Oldest trick in the book but still effective-you steal a car to commit a crime, then you switch plates in case someone sees it. More deception. But a lot of criminals don't realize that the most effective method is to switch plates with a vehicle that's the same make as yours. It confuses even more."

"So you're figuring the van in the Target lot was stolen."

"You don't agree?"

"I guess I do," Cope said. "It certainly adds weight to Mr. Errico's story. I get why we should worry about Reba Cordova. But I still don't see how she ties in with our Jane Doe."

"Take a look at this."

She swiveled her computer monitor in his direction. Cope turned his attention to the screen.

"What is this?"

"A security tape from a building near the Jane Doe murder scene. I was watching it this morning, thinking it was total waste of time. But now..." Muse had the tape all lined up. She pressed the PLAY button. A white van appeared. She hit PAUSE and the image froze.

Cope moved closer. "A white van."

"A white Chevy van, yup."

"Must be a zillion white Chevy vans registered in New York and New Jersey," Cope said. "Could you get the license plate?"


"And can I assume it's a match with the one that belongs to the Kasner woman?"


Cope's eyes narrowed. "No?"

"No. Totally different number."

"Then what's the big deal?"

She pointed at the screen. "This license plate-JYL-419-belongs to a Mr. David Pulkingham of Armonk, New York."

"Does Mr. Pulkingham own a white van too?"


"Could he be our guy?"

"He's seventy-three and has no record."

"So you figure another plate switch?"


Clarence Morrow leaned his head in the office. "Chief?"


He saw Paul Copeland and straightened as though ready to salute. "Good morning, Mr. Prosecutor."

"Hey, Clarence."

Clarence waited.

"It's okay," Muse said. "What have you got?"

"I just got off the phone with Helen Kasner."


"I had her check her van's plate. You were right. The license plate was switched and she never noticed."

"Anything else?"

"Yep, the kicker. The license plate on the car now?" Clarence pointed to the white van on the computer screen. "It belongs to Mr. David Pulkingham."

Muse looked at Cope, smiled, raised her palms to the sky. "That enough of a link?"

"Yeah," Cope said. "That'll do."