Chapter 22

WHEN Guy Novak pulled back into his driveway, his hands were at two and ten. His grip on the wheel turned his knuckles white. He just sat there, foot on the brake, wanting so much to feel anything but this tremendous impotence.

He glanced at his reflection in the rearview mirror. His hair was thinning. He was starting to let the part in his hair drift toward his ear. It wasn't a noticeable comb-over, not yet, but isn't that what everyone thinks? The part moves so slowly south you don't notice it on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis and the next thing you know, people are snickering at you behind your back.

Guy stared at the man in the mirror and couldn't believe it was him. The part, however, would continue to drift. He knew that. Better the wisps of hair than that shiny chrome up top.

He took one hand off the wheel, shifted into park, turned the ignition key. He took another glance at the man in the rearview mirror.


Not a man at all. Driving by a house and slowing down. Wow, what a tough guy. Show some balls, Guy-or are you too afraid to do anything to the scumbag who destroyed your child?

What kind of father is that? What kind of man?

A pathetic one.

Oh, sure, Guy had complained to the principal like some tattletale baby. The principal made all the right sympathetic sounds and did nothing. Lewiston still taught. Lewiston still went home at night and kissed his pretty wife and probably lifted his little girl in the air and listened to her giggle. Guy's wife, Yasmin's mother, had left when Yasmin was less than two. Most people blamed his ex for abandoning her family, but in truth, Guy hadn't been man enough. So his ex started sleeping around and after a while, she didn't really care if he found out or not.

That had been his wife. Not strong enough to hold on to her. Okay, that was one thing.

But now we were talking about his child.

Yasmin. His lovely daughter. The only manly thing he had accomplished in his entire life. Fathering a child. Raising her. Being her primary caretaker.

Wasn't his first job to protect her?

Good job, Guy.

And now he was not even man enough to fight for her. What would Guy's father have said about that? He'd sneer and give him that look that made Guy feel so worthless. He'd call him a sissy because if someone had done something like that to anyone in his old man's inner circle, George Novak would have punched out his lights.

That was what Guy so badly wanted to do.

He stepped out of the car and started up the walk. He had lived here twelve years now. He remembered holding his ex's hand as they approached it for the first time, the way she smiled at him. Had she already been screwing around behind his back then? Probably. For years after she left him, Guy would wonder if Yasmin was really his. He would try to block it, try to claim it wouldn't matter, try to ignore that doubt eating away at him. But after a while he couldn't take it anymore. Two years ago, Guy surreptitiously arranged a paternity test. It took three painful weeks to get the results, but in the end, it was worth it.

Yasmin was his.

This might again sound pathetic, but knowing the truth made him a better father. He made sure that she was happy. He put her needs ahead of his. He loved Yasmin and cared for her and never belittled her like his father had done to him.

But he hadn't protected her.

He stopped and looked at the house now. If he was going to put it on the market, it could probably use a fresh coat of paint. The shrubs would need to be trimmed too.


The female voice was unfamiliar. Guy turned and squinted into the sunlight. He was stunned to see Lewiston 's wife getting out of her car. Her face was twisted in rage. She started toward him.

Guy stood without moving.

"What do you think you're doing," she said, "driving past my house?"

Guy, never good with fast retorts, replied, "It's a free country."

Dolly Lewiston did not stop. She came at him so fast he feared that she might strike him. He actually put his hands up and took a step back. Pathetic weakling yet again. Afraid not only to stick up for his child but of her tormentor's wife too.

She stopped and put a finger in his face. "You stay away from my family, you hear me?"

It took him a moment to gather his thoughts. "Do you know what your husband did to my daughter?"

"He made a mistake."

"He made fun of an eleven-year-old girl."

"I know what he did. It was dumb. He is very sorry. You have no idea."

"He made my daughter's life a living hell."

"And so, what, you want to do the same to us?"

"Your husband should quit," Guy said.

"For one slip of the tongue?"

"He took away her childhood."

"You're being melodramatic."

"Do you really not remember what it was like back then-being the kid who got picked on every day? My daughter was a happy kid. Not perfect, no. But happy. And now..."

"Look, I'm sorry. I really am. But I want you to stay away from my family."

"If he hit her-I mean, like slapped her or something-he'd be gone, right? What he did to Yasmin was even worse."

Dolly Lewiston made a face. "Are you for real?"

"I'm not letting this go."

She took a step toward him. This time he did not back up. Their faces were maybe a foot apart, no more. Her voice became a whisper. "Do you really think being called a name is the worst that can happen to her?"

He opened his mouth but nothing came out.

"You're going after my family, Mr. Novak. My family. The people I love. My husband made a mistake. He apologized. But you still want to attack us. And if that's the case, we will defend ourselves."

"If you're talking about a lawsuit-"

She chuckled. "Oh, no," she said, still in that whisper. "I'm not talking about courts."

"Then what?"

Dolly Lewiston tilted her head to the right. "Have you ever been physically assaulted, Mr. Novak?"

"Is that a threat?"

"It's a question. You said that what my husband did was worse than a physical assault. Let me assure you, Mr. Novak. It is not. I know people. I give them the word-I just hint that someone is trying to hurt me-they'll come by here one night when you're sleeping. When your daughter is sleeping."

Guy's mouth felt dry. He tried to stop his knees from turning to rubber.

"That definitely sounds like a threat, Mrs. Lewiston."

"It isn't. It's a fact. If you want to go after us, we aren't going to sit on our hands and let you. I will go after you with everything I have. Do you understand?"

He didn't reply.

"Do yourself a favor, Mr. Novak. Worry about taking care of your daughter, not my husband. Let it go."

"I won't."

"Then the suffering has just begun."

Dolly Lewiston turned around and left without another word. Guy Novak felt the quake in his legs. He stayed and watched her get in her car and drive away. She did not look back but he could see a smile on her face.

She's nuts, Guy thought.

But did that mean he should back down? Hadn't he backed down his whole damn life? Wasn't that the problem from the get-go here- that he was a man you walked all over?

He opened the front door and headed inside.

"Everything okay?"

It was Beth, his latest girlfriend. She tried too hard to please. They all did. There was such a shortage of men in this age group and so they all tried so hard to both please and not appear desperate and none of them could quite pull it off. Desperation was like that. You could try to mask it, but the smell permeates all covers.

Guy wished that he could get past that. He wished that the women could get past it too, so that they would see him. But that was how it was and so all these relationships stayed on a superficial level. The women would want more. They would try not to pressure and that just felt like pressure. Women were nesters. They wanted to get closer. He wouldn't. But they would stay anyway until he broke it off with them.

"Everything is fine," Guy said to her. "Sorry if I took too long."

"Not at all."

"The girls okay?"

"Yes. Jill's mom came by and picked her up. Yasmin is up in her room."

"Okay, great."

"Are you hungry, Guy? Would you like me to fix you something to eat?"

"Only if you'll join me."

Beth beamed a little, and for some reason that made him feel guilty. The women he dated made him feel both worthless and superior at the same time. Feelings of self-loathing consumed him once again.

She came over and kissed his cheek. "You go relax and I'll start making lunch."

"Great, I'm just going to quickly check my e-mail."

But when Guy checked his computer, there was only one new e-mail. It came from an anonymous Hotmail account and the short message chilled Guy's blood.

Please listen to me. You need to hide your gun better.

TIA almost wished that she'd taken up Hester Crimstein's offer. She sat in her house and wondered if she had ever felt more useless in her entire life. She called Adam's friends, but no one knew anything. Fear built in her head. Jill, no dummy when it came to her parents' moods, knew something was seriously off.

"Where's Adam, Mommy?"

"We don't know, honey."

"I called his cell," Jill said. "He didn't answer."

"I know. We're trying to find him."

She looked at her daughter's face. So adult. The second kid grows up so much differently from the first. You so overprotect your first. You watch his every step. You think his every breath is somehow God's divine plan. The earth, moon, stars, sun-they all revolve around a firstborn.

Tia thought about secrets, about inner thoughts and fears, and how she'd been trying to find her son's. She wondered if this disappearance confirmed that she'd been right to do it or wrong. We all have our problems, she knew. Tia had anxiety issues. She religiously made the kids wear headgear when playing any sort of sport- eyewear too when it was called for. She stayed at the bus stop until they got in, even now, even when Adam was far too old for such treatment and would never stand it, so she hid and watched. She didn't like them crossing busy streets or heading to the center of town on their bikes. She didn't like carpooling because that other mother might not be as careful a driver. She listened to every story about every child tragedy-every car accident, every pool drowning, every abduction, every plane crash, anything. She listened and then she came home and looked it up online and read every article on it and while Mike would sigh and try to calm her down by talking about the long-shot odds, prove to her that her anxiety was unfounded, it would do no good.

Long odds still happened to someone. And now it was happening to her.

Had these been anxiety issues-or had Tia been right all along?

Once again Tia's cell jangled and once again she grabbed it fast, hoping with everything she had that it was Adam. It wasn't. The number was blocked.


"Mrs. Baye? This is Detective Schlich."

The tall woman cop from the hospital. The fear struck yet again. You think that you can't keep feeling fresh waves, but the stabs never make you numb. "Yes?"

"Your son's phone was found in a trash can not far from where your husband got jumped."

"So he was there?"

"Well, yes, we assumed that already."

"And someone must have stolen his phone."

"That's another question. The most likely reason for tossing the phone was that someone-probably your son-saw your husband there and realized how he'd been tracked down."

"But you don't know that."

"No, Mrs. Baye, I don't know that."

"Will this development make you take the case more seriously?"

"We were always taking it seriously," Schlich said.

"You know what I meant."

"I do. Look, we call this street Vampire Row because there is no one here during the day. No one. So tonight, when the clubs and bars open again, yes, we will go out and ask questions."

Hours yet. Nightfall.

"If anything else develops, I will let you know."

"Thank you."

Tia was hanging up the phone when she saw the car pull into her driveway. She moved toward the window and watched as Betsy Hill, Spencer's mother, stepped out of the vehicle and started toward her door.

ILENE Goldfarb woke up early in the morning and flicked on the coffee maker. She slipped into her robe and slippers and padded down her driveway to grab the paper. Her husband, Herschel, was still in bed. Her son, Hal, had been out late last night, as befits a teenager in his last year of high school. Hal had already been accepted at Princeton, her alma mater. He had worked hard to get there. Now he blew off steam, and she was fine with that.

The morning sun warmed the kitchen. Ilene sat in her favorite chair and curled her legs under her. She pushed away the medical journals. There were a lot of them. Not only was she a renowned transplant surgeon but her husband was considered the top cardiac man in northern New Jersey, practicing out of Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.

Ilene sipped the coffee. She read the paper. She thought about the simple pleasures of life and how rarely she indulged them. She thought about Herschel, upstairs, how handsome he was when they met in medical school, how they had survived the insane hours and rigors of medical school, of internship, of residency, of surgical fellowships, of work. She thought about her feelings for him, how they had mellowed over the years into something she found comforting, how Herschel had recently sat her down and suggested a "trial separation" now that Hal was about to leave the nest.

"What's left?" Herschel had asked her, spreading his hands. "When you really think about us as a couple, what's left, Ilene?"

Sitting alone in the kitchen, scant feet from where her husband of twenty-four years had asked that question, she could still hear his words echo.

Ilene had pushed herself and worked so hard, gone for it all, and she had gotten it: the incredible career, the wonderful family, the big house, respect of peers and friends. Now her husband wondered what was left. What indeed. The mellow had been such a slow slide, so gradual, that she had never really seen it. Or cared to see it. Or wanted more. Who the hell knew?

She looked toward the stairs. She was tempted to go back up right this very moment and crawl into bed with Herschel and make love to him for hours, like they used to too many years ago, boink those "what's left" doubts right out of his head. But she couldn't make herself get up. She just couldn't. So she read the paper and sipped her coffee and wiped her eyes.

"Hey, Mom."

Hal opened the refrigerator and drank straight from the container of orange juice. There was a time she'd correct him on this-she'd tried for years-but really, Hal was the only one who drank orange juice and too many hours get wasted on stuff like that. He was going off to college now. Their time together was running out. Why fill it with nonsense like that?

"Hey, sweetheart. Out late?"

He drank some more, shrugged. He wore shorts and a gray T-shirt. There was a basketball cropped under his arm.

"Are you playing at the high school gym?" she asked.

"No, Heritage." Then he took one more swig and said to her, "You okay?"

"Me? Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Your eyes look red."

"I'm fine."

"And I saw those guys come by."

He meant the FBI agents. They had come and asked questions about her practice, about Mike, about stuff that simply made no sense to her. Normally she would have talked to Herschel about it, but he seemed more concerned with preparing for the rest of his life without her.

"I thought you'd gone out," she said.

"I stopped to pick up Ricky and doubled back down the street. They looked like cops or something."

Ilene Goldfarb said nothing.

"Were they?"

"It's not important. Don't worry about it."

He let it go, bounced the ball and himself out the door. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang. She glanced at the clock. Eight A.M. At this hour it had to be the service, though she wasn't on call. The operators often made mistakes and routed the messages to the wrong doctor.

She checked the caller ID and saw the name LORIMAN.

Ilene picked up and said hello.

"It's Susan Loriman," the voice said.

"Yes, good morning."

"I don't want to talk to Mike about this"-Susan Loriman stopped as if searching for the right word-"this situation. About finding Lucas a donor."

"I understand," she said. "I have office hours on Tuesday, if you want-"

"Could you meet me today?"

Ilene was about to protest. The last thing right now she wanted to do was protect or even help a woman who had gotten herself into this kind of trouble. But this wasn't about Susan Loriman, she reminded herself. It was about her son and Ilene's patient, Lucas.

"I guess so, yes."