YASMIN whispered, "Let's go."
Jill looked at her friend. The little mustache on her face, the one that had caused all the trouble, was gone, but for some reason Jill could still see it. Yasmin's mother had visited from wherever she lived now-somewhere down south, Florida maybe-and had taken her to some fancy doctor's office and gotten her electrolysis. It helped her appearance but it hadn't helped make school one bit less horrible.
They were sitting at the kitchen table. Beth, the "girlfriend du week" as Yasmin called her, had tried to impress them with a fancy omelette breakfast complete with sausage links and Beth's "legend- ary hotcakes," but the girls had passed, to Beth's crestfallen disappointment, in favor of frozen Eggos with chocolate chips.
"Okay, girls, you enjoy," Beth said through clenched teeth. "I'm going to sit in the yard and get some sun."
As soon as Beth was out the door, Yasmin got up from the table and sneaked over to the bay window. Beth was not in view. Yasmin looked left, then right, then she smiled.
"What is it?" Jill asked.
"Check this out," Yasmin said.
Jill rose and joined her friend.
"Look. In the corner behind the big tree."
"I don't see anything."
"Look closer," Yasmin said.
It took a moment or two and then Jill saw something gray and wispy and she realized what Yasmin meant. "Beth's smoking?"
"Yup. She's hiding behind a tree and lighting up."
"Maybe she's worried about smoking in front of impressionable youth," Yasmin said with a wry grin. "Or maybe Beth doesn't want my dad to know. He hates smokers."
"Are you going to rat her out?"
Yasmin smiled, shrugged. "Who knows? We rat out everybody else, don't we?" She started rifling through a purse. Jill gave a little gasp.
"Is that Beth's?"
"We shouldn't do that."
Yasmin just made a face and continued her rummaging.
Jill moved closer and peered in. "Anything interesting?"
"No." Yasmin put it down. "Come on, I want to show you something."
She dropped the purse on the counter and headed up the stairs. Jill followed. There was a window in the bathroom at the landing. Yasmin took a quick peak. So did Jill. Beth was indeed behind the tree-they could see her clearly now-and she was puffing on that cigarette as if she were underwater and had finally found a lifeline. She took deep hard puffs and closed her eyes and the lines on her face smoothed out.
Yasmin moved away without a word. She beckoned Jill to follow. They entered her father's room. Yasmin headed straight to his night table and opened the drawer.
Jill was hardly shocked. This, in truth, was one of the things they had in common. They both liked to explore. All kids do to some extent, Jill guessed, but in her house, her dad called her "Harriet the Spy." She was always sneaking into places she didn't belong. When Jill was eight, she found old pictures in her mom's drawer. They were hidden in the back, under a bunch of old postcards and pillboxes she'd bought on a trip to Florence during a summer break in college.
In one picture was a boy who looked to be about her age at the time-eight or maybe nine. He stood next to a girl maybe a year or two younger. The girl, Jill immediately knew, was her mother. She turned the picture over. Someone had written in delicate script, "Tia and Davey" and the year.
She had never heard of a Davey. But she learned. Her snooping had taught her a valuable lesson. Parents like to keep things secrets too.
"Look here," Yasmin said.
Jill looked into the drawer. Mr. Novak had a roll of condoms on the top. "Eeuw, gross."
"Do you think he used them with Beth?"
"I don't want to think about it."
"How do you think I feel? He's my father." Jill closed the drawer and opened the one below it. Her voice suddenly became a whisper.
"Take a look at this."
Yasmin dug her hand past old sweaters, a metal box of some kind, rolls of socks, and then it stopped. She pulled something into a view and smiled.
Jill jumped back. "What the...?"
"It's a gun."
"I know it's a gun!"
"And it's loaded."
"Put it away. I can't believe your dad has a loaded gun."
"So do lots of dads. Want me to show you how to take off the safety?"
But Yasmin did it anyway. They both stared at the weapon in awe. Yasmin handed it to Jill. At first Jill put up her hand refusing, but then something about its shape and color drew her. She let it rest in her palm. She marveled at the weight, at the coolness, at the simplicity.
"Can I tell you something?" Yasmin asked.
"You promise you won't tell."
"Of course I won't tell."
"When I first found it, I fantasized about using it on Mr. Lewiston."
Jill carefully set the weapon down.
"I could almost see it, you know? I would go into class. I would keep it in my backpack. Sometimes I think about waiting until after class, shooting him when no one is around, wiping my fingerprints off the gun, making a clean getaway. Or I would go to his house-I know where he lives, it's in West Orange -and I would kill him there and no one would suspect me. And then other times I think about doing it right in the classroom, with everyone still there, and all the other kids would see, and maybe I would even turn the gun that way, but then I quickly thought, no, that would be too Columbine and I'm not like some goth outcast."
"You're kind of scaring me."
Yasmin smiled. "It was just, like, a random thought, you know. Harmless. I'm not going to do it or anything."
"He will pay," Jill said. "You know that, right? Mr. Lewiston?"
"I do know," Yasmin said.
They heard a car pull into the driveway. Mr. Novak was home. Yasmin calmly picked up the gun, put it in the bottom of the drawer, arranged everything just so. She took her time, no rush, even when the door opened and they heard her father call out, "Yasmin? Girls?"
Yasmin closed the drawer, smiled, moved toward the door.
"We're coming, Dad!"
TIA didn't bother to pack.
As soon as she hung up with Mike, she ran down to the lobby. Brett was still rubbing sleep from his eyes, and his hair had the di- sheveled look of the great untouched. He'd volunteered to drive her to the Bronx. Brett's van was loaded with computer equipment and smelled like a bong, but he kept his foot pressed on the pedal. Tia sat next to him and made some phone calls. She woke up Guy Novak and briefly explained that Mike had been in an accident and could he watch Jill for a few extra hours? He had been properly sympathetic and quickly agreed.
"What should I tell Jill?" Guy Novak asked her.
"Just tell her something's come up. I don't want her worrying."
Tia sat up and stared at the road as though that might make the trip shorter. She tried to piece together what happened. Mike said he had used a cell phone GPS. He tracked down Adam in some strange location in the Bronx. He drove there, maybe saw the Huff kid, and then he got assaulted.
Adam was still missing-or maybe, like last time, he had merely decided to drop out of sight for a day or two.
She called Clark 's house. She spoke to Olivia too. Neither had seen Adam. She called the Huff household, but there was no answer. For most of the night and even this morning, preparing for the deposition had kept the terror partially occupied-at least until Mike had called from the hospital. No more. Raw fear rose up and took hold. She started shifting in her seat.
"Ya okay?" Brett asked.
But she wasn't fine. She kept flashing to the night Spencer Hill had vanished and committed suicide. She remembered getting the call from Betsy...
"Has Adam seen Spencer...?"
The panic in Betsy's voice. The pure fear. No anxiety in the end. She had been worried and, in the end, she had earned every second of it.
Tia closed her eyes. It was suddenly hard to breathe. She felt her chest hitch. She gulped down breaths.
"You want me to open a window?" Brett asked.
She collected herself and called the hospital. She managed to reach the doctor, but she learned nothing she didn't already know. Mike had been beaten and robbed. From what she could make of it, a group of men had jumped her husband in an alley. He had suffered a severe concussion and had been unconscious for several hours, but he was resting comfortably and would be fine.
She reached Hester Crimstein at home. Her boss expressed moderate concern for Tia's husband and son-and maximum concern for her case.
"Your son has run away before, right?" Hester asked.
"So that's probably what's going on with him, don't you think?"
"It might be something more."
"Like what?" Hester asked. "Look, what time is the deposition again?"
"I'll ask for a continuance. If it's not granted, you have to go back up."
"You're joking, right?"
"From the sound of it, there is nothing you can do from there. You can have phone access throughout. I'll get you the private jet so you can leave from Teterboro."
"This is my family we're talking about."
"Right, and I'm talking about missing a few hours from them. You're not going to do anything to make them feel better, just yourself. In the meantime, I'm dealing with an innocent man who may end up serving a twenty-five-year prison term if we screw this up."
Tia wanted to quit right on the spot, but something took hold and calmed her enough to say, "Let's see about the continuance."
"I'll call you back."
Tia hung up the phone, looked at it in her hand as if it were some strange new growth. Did that really happen?
When she reached Mike's room, Mo was already there. He stormed across the room, two fists at his side. "He's fine," Mo said, as soon as she entered. "He just fell back asleep."
Tia crossed the room. There were two other beds in the room, both with patients. Neither of them had visitors right now. When Tia looked down and saw Mike's face, it felt as though a cement block had landed on her stomach.
"Oh dear God..."
Mo came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. "It looks worse than it is."
She hoped so. She had not known what to expect, but this? His right eye was swollen shut. There was a cut like something from a straight razor across one cheek while a bruise welled up on the other one. His lip was split. One arm was under the blanket, but she could see two huge bruises on the other forearm.
"What did they do to him?" she whispered.
"They're dead men," Mo said. "You hear me? I'm going to track them down and I'm not going to beat them. I'm going to kill them."
Tia put her hand on her husband's forearm. Her husband. Her beautiful, handsome, strong husband. She had fallen in love with this man at Dartmouth. She had shared her bed with him, had children, chosen him to be her companion for life. It was not something that you think about often, but there it was. You actually choose one fellow human being to share a life with-it was the most frightening thing when you think about it. How had she let them drift apart, even a little? How had she let the routine become routine and not done everything every second of their life together to make it even better, even more passionate?
"I love you so much," she whispered.
His eyes blinked open. She could see fear in his eyes too-and maybe that was the worst thing of all. In all the time she had known Mike, she had never seen fear in him. She had never seen him cry either. He did, she guessed, but he was the sort that did not show it. He wanted to be the strong shoulder, and old-fashioned as it might sound, she wanted that too.
He looked straight up in the air, eyes wide now, as if seeing some imaginary attacker.
"Mike," Tia said. "I'm right here."
His eyes moved toward hers, met hers, but the fear did not let go. If seeing her was a comfort, he wasn't showing that either. Tia took his hand.
"You're going to be fine," she said.
His eyes stayed on hers and now she could see it. She knew what he'd say even before the words came out of his mouth.
"What about Adam? Where is he?"