Chapter 24

NASH sat in the van and tried to figure his next move.

Nash's upbringing had been normal. He knew that psychiatric types would want to examine that statement, searching for some kind of sexual abuse or excess or streak of religious conservatism. Nash thought that they would find nothing. His were good parents and siblings. Maybe too good. They had covered for him the way families do for one another. In hindsight some might view that as a mistake, but it takes a lot for family to accept the truth.

Nash was intelligent and thus he knew early on that he was what some might call "damaged." There is the old catch-22 line that a mentally unstable person can't know, as per their illness, that they are unstable. But that was wrong. You can and do have the insight to see your own crazy. Nash knew that all his wires weren't connected or that there might be some bug in the system. He knew that he was different, that he was not of the norm. That didn't necessarily make him feel inferior-or superior. He knew that his mind went to very dark places and liked it there. He did not feel things the way others did, did not sympathize with people's pain the way others pretended they did.

The key word: "pretended."

Pietra sat in the seat next to him.

"Why does man make himself out to be so special?" he asked her.

She said nothing.

"Forget the fact that this planet-nay, this solar system-is so in- significantly small that we can't even comprehend it. Try this. Imagine you're on a huge beach. Imagine you pick up one tiny grain of sand. Just one. Then you look up and down this long beach that stretches in both directions as far as the eye can see. Do you think our entire solar system is as small as that grain of sand is to that beach in comparison to the universe?"

"I don't know."

"Well, if you did, you'd be wrong. It is much, much smaller. Try this: Imagine you're still holding that tiny grain of sand. Now not just the beach you are on, but all the beaches all over the planet, all of them, all down the coast of California and the East Coast from Maine down to Florida and on the Indian Ocean and off the coasts of Africa. Imagine all that sand, all those beaches everywhere in the world and now look at that grain of sand you're holding and still, still, our entire solar system-forget our planet-is smaller than that compared to the rest of the universe. Can you even comprehend how insignifi- cant we are?"

Pietra said nothing.

"But forget that for a moment," Nash went on, "because man is even insignificant here on this very planet. Let's take this whole argument down to just earth for a moment, okay?"

She nodded.

"Do you realize that dinosaurs walked this planet longer than man?"


"But that's not all. That would be one thing that would show that man is not special-the fact that even on this infinitesimally small planet we haven't even been kings the majority of the time. But take it a step farther-do you realize how much longer the dinosaurs ruled the earth than us? Two times? Five times? Ten times?"

She looked at him. "I don't know."

"Forty-four thousand times longer." He was gesturing wildly now, lost in the bliss of his argument. "Think about that. Forty-four thousand times longer. That's more than one hundred and twenty years for every single day. Can you even comprehend it? Do you think we will survive forty-four thousand times longer than we already have?"

"No," she said.

Nash sat back. "We are nothing. Man. Nothing. Yet we feel as though we are special. We think we matter or that God considers us his favorites. What a laugh."

In college, Nash studied John Locke's state of nature-the idea that the best government is the least government because, put simply, it is closest to the state of nature, or what God intended. But in that state, we are animals. It is nonsense to think we are anything more. How silly to believe that man is above that and that love and friendship are anything but the ravings of a more intelligent mind, a mind that can see the futility and thus must invent ways to comfort and distract itself from it.

Was Nash the sane one for seeing the darkness-or were most people just self-delusional? And yet.

And yet for many years Nash had longed for normalcy.

He saw the carefree and craved it. He realized that he was way above average in intelligence. He was a straight-A student with nearly perfect SAT scores. He matriculated at Williams College, where he majored in philosophy-all the while trying to keep the crazy away. But the crazy wanted out.

So why not let it out?

There was in him some primitive instinct to protect his parents and siblings, but the rest of the world's inhabitants did not matter to him. They were background scenery, props, nothing more. The truth was-a truth he understood early-he derived intense pleasure from harming others. He always had. He didn't know why. Some people derive pleasure from a soft breeze or a warm hug or a victory shot in a basketball game. Nash derived it from ridding the planet of another inhabitant. He didn't ask this for himself, but he saw it and sometimes he could fight it and sometimes he could not.

Then he met Cassandra.

It was like one of those science experiments that start with a clear liquid and then someone adds a small drop-a catalyst-to it and it changes everything. The color changes and the complexion changes and the texture changes. Corny as it sounds, Cassandra was that catalyst.

He saw her and she touched him and it transformed him.

He suddenly got it. He got love. He got hope and dreams and the idea of wanting to wake up and spend your life with another person. They met during their sophomore year at Williams. Cassandra was beautiful, but there was something more there. Every guy had a crush on her, though not really the fantasy-sexual kind you usually associate with college. With her awkward gait and knowing smile, Cassandra was the one you wanted to bring home. She was the one who made you think about buying a house and cutting your lawn and building a barbecue and wiping her brow when she gave birth to your child. You were wowed by her beauty, yes, but you were more wowed by her innate goodness. She was special and could do no harm and you instinctively knew it.

He'd seen a little of that in Reba Cordova, just a little, and there had been a pang when he had killed her, not much of one, but a pang. He thought about her husband, what he would have to go through now, because while he didn't really care, Nash knew something about it.


She had five brothers and they all adored her and her parents adored her and whenever you walked past her and she smiled at you, even if you were a stranger, you felt the pluck deep in your heart. Her family called her Cassie. Nash did not like that. She was Cassandra to him and he loved her and on the day he married her, he understood what people meant when they said you were "blessed."

They came back to Williams for homecoming and reunions and they always stayed in North Adams at the Porches Inn. He could see her there, at that inn in the gray house, her head resting on his stomach as a recent song reminded him, her eyes on the ceiling, him stroking her hair as they talked about nothing and everything and that was how he saw her when he looked back now, how he pictured her- before she felt sick and they said it was cancer and they cut up his beautiful Cassandra and she died, just like every other insignificant organism on this tiny nothing of a planet.

Yes, Cassandra died and that was when he knew for certain that it was all a crock and a joke and once she was gone, Nash didn't have the strength to worry about stopping the crazy anymore. There was no need. So he let the crazy out, all out, with a sudden flooding rush. And once it was out, there was no putting it back.

Her family tried to console him. They had "faith" and explained again that he had been "blessed" to have her at all and that she would be waiting for him in some beautiful place for all eternity. They needed it, he guessed. The family had already picked up after another tragedy-her oldest brother, Curtis, had been killed three years before in some sort of robbery gone bad-but at least, in that case, Curtis had lived a life of trouble. Cassandra had been crushed when her brother died, had cried for days until Nash wanted to let the crazy out just to find a way to ease her pain, but in the end, those who had faith could rationalize Curtis's death. Faith let them explain it as part of some grand scheme.

But how do you explain losing someone as loving and warm as Cassandra?

You can't. So her parents talked about the hereafter, but they didn't really believe that. No one else did. Why cry at death if you believe that you will spend eternity in bliss? Why mourn the loss of someone when that person was now in a better place? Wasn't that horribly selfish of you-keeping a loved one from someplace better? And if you did believe that you spent eternity in paradise with the loved one, there would never be anything to fear-life is not even one breath next to eternity.

You cry and mourn, Nash knew, because deep inside, you knew it was a crock.

Cassandra wasn't with her brother Curtis, bathing in white light. What was left of her, what hadn't been taken by the cancer and the chemo, was rotting away in the ground.

At the funeral, her family talked about fate and plans and all that nonsense too. That this had been his beloved's fate-to live briefly, touch everyone who saw her, raise him to a wonderful height, let him drop to the ground with a splat. This has been his fate too. He wondered about that. Even when he was with her, there had been moments where containing his true nature-his honest, most godlike state of nature-had been difficult. Would he have been able to maintain the peace inside? Or had he been hardwired from day one to go back to the dark place and cause destruction, even if Cassandra had survived?

It was impossible to know. But either way this was his fate.

Pietra said, "She would have never said anything."

He knew that she was talking about Reba.

"We don't know that."

Pietra looked out the side window.

"Eventually the police will get an ID on Marianne," he said. "Or someone will realize that she's missing. The police will look into it. They'll talk to her friends. Reba would have told them then for certain."

"You are sacrificing many lives."

"Two so far."

"And the survivors. Their lives are altered."



"You know why."

"Are you going to claim Marianne started it?"

"Started is not the right word. She changed the dynamics."

"So she dies?"

"She made a decision that altered and could potentially destroy lives."

"So she dies?" Pietra repeated.

"All our decisions carry weight, Pietra. We all play God every day. When a woman buys a new pair of expensive shoes, she could have spent that same money feeding someone who was starving. In a sense, those shoes mean more to her than a life. We all kill to make our lives more comfortable. We don't put it in those terms. But we do."

She didn't argue.

"What's going on, Pietra?"

"Nothing. Forget it."

"I promised Cassandra."

"Yes. So you said."

"We need to keep this contained, Pietra."

"Do you think we can?"

"I do."

"So how many more will we kill?"

He was puzzled by the question. "Do you really care? Have you had enough?"

"I'm just asking about now. Today. With this. How many more will we kill?"

Nash thought about it. He realized now that perhaps Marianne had told him the truth in the beginning. In that case, he needed to go back to square one and snuff out the problem at its source.

"With a little luck," he said, "only one."

" WOW," Loren Muse said. "Could this woman be more boring?"

Clarence smiled. They were going through the credit card receipts for Reba Cordova. There were absolutely no surprises. She bought groceries and school supplies and kid clothes. She bought a vacuum at Sears and returned it. She bought a microwave at P.C. Richard. Her credit card was on file at a Chinese restaurant called Baumgarts, where she ordered takeout every Tuesday night.

Her e-mails were equally dull. She wrote to other parents about playdates. She kept in touch with one daughter's dance instructor and the other's soccer coach. She received the Willard School e-mail. She kept up with her tennis group about scheduling and filling in when one of them couldn't make it. She was on the Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and PetSmart newsletter lists. She wrote to her sister asking her for the name of a reading specialist because one of her daughters, Sarah, was having trouble.

"I didn't know people like this really existed," Muse said.

But she did. She saw them at Starbucks, the harried, doe-eyed women who thought a coffee shop was the perfect place for Mommy and Me hour, what with Brittany and Madison and Kyle in tow, all running around while the mommies-college graduates, former intellectuals-gabbed incessantly about their offspring as if no other child had ever existed. They gabbed about their poopies-yes, for real, their bowel movements!-and their first word and their social skills and their Montessori schools and their gymnastics and their Baby Einstein DVDs and they all had this brain-gone smile, like some alien had sucked their head dry, and Muse despised them on one level, pitied them on another and tried so damn hard not to be envious.

Loren Muse swore, of course, that she would never be like those mommies if she ever did have children. But who knew? Blanket declarations like that reminded her of the people who said that when they were old they'd rather be dead than end up in a nursing home or be a burden to their grown children-and now almost everyone she knew had parents who were either in a nursing home or a burden and none of those old people wanted to die.

If you look at anything from the outside, it is easy to make sweeping ungenerous judgments.

"How is the husband's alibi?" she asked.

"The Livingston police questioned Cordova. It seems pretty solid."

Muse motioned at the paperwork with her jaw. "And is the husband as boring as the wife?"

"I'm still going through all his e-mails, phone records, and credit card stuff, but yeah, so far."

"What else?"

"Well, assuming that the same killer or killers took Reba Cordova and Jane Doe, we have patrolmen checking the spots known for prostitution, seeing if another body gets dumped."

Loren Muse didn't think that was going to happen but it was worth looking into. One of the possible scenarios here was that some serial killer, with the willing or unwilling help of a female accomplice, grabbed suburban women, killed them, and wanted them to appear to be prostitutes. They were going through the computers now, seeing if any other victims in nearby cities fit that description. So far, goose egg.

Muse didn't buy this particular theory anyway. Psychologists and profilers would have a quasi-orgasm at the idea of a serial killer working suburban moms and making them up to be prostitutes. They would pontificate on the obvious mom-whore linkage, but Muse didn't really buy it. There was one question that didn't fit with this scenario, a question that had been bugging her from the moment she'd realized that Jane Doe was not a street hooker: Why hadn't anyone reported Jane Doe missing?

There were two possible reasons she could see. One, nobody knew that she was missing. Jane Doe was on vacation or supposed to be on a business trip or something like that. Or two, someone who knew her had killed her. And that someone didn't want to report her missing.

"Where is the husband now?"

"Cordova? He's still with the Livingston cops. They're going to canvass the neighborhood and see if anyone saw a white van, you know, the usual."

Muse picked up a pencil. She put the eraser end in her mouth and chewed.

There was a knock on her door. She looked up and saw the soon-to-be-retired Frank Tremont filling her doorway.

Third day in a row with the same brown suit, Muse thought. Impressive.

He looked at her and waited. She didn't have time for this, but it was probably better to get it over with.

"Clarence, you mind leaving us alone?"

"Yeah, Chief, sure thing."

Clarence gave Frank Tremont a little nod as he left. Tremont did not return it. When Clarence was out of sight, he shook his head and said, "Did he call you chief?"

"I'm kind of pressed for time, Frank."

"You got my letter?"

His resignation letter. "I did."


"I have something for you," Tremont said.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm not out until the end of next month," he said. "So I still need to do work, right?"


"So I got something."

She leaned back, hoping he would make it a quick.

"I start looking into that white van. The one at both scenes."


"I don't think it was stolen, unless it was out of the area. There is really nothing reported that matches it. So I started searching rent-a-car companies, seeing if anyone rented a van like the one we described."


"There are some, but most I was able to trace down fast and find out they're legit."

"So it's a dead end."

Frank Tremont smiled. "Mind if I sit down a second?"

She waved at the chair.

"I tried one more thing," he said. "See, this guy has been pretty clever. Like you said. Setting up the first to look like a hooker. Parking the second vic's car in a hotel lot. Changing the license plates and all. He doesn't do it in the typical way. So I started wondering. What would be better and less traceable than stealing or renting a car?"

"I'm listening."

"Buying a used one online. Have you seen those sites?"

"Not really, no."

"They sell a zillion cars. I bought one there last year, on You can find real bargains-and since it is person to person, the paperwork is iffy. I mean, we might check dealers, but who is going to track down a car via an online purchase?"


"So I called the two major online companies. I asked them to back-date and find me any white Chevy vans sold in this area for the past month. I found six. I called all of them. Four were paid for with checks so we got addresses. Two paid in cash."

Muse sat back. The pencil eraser was still in her mouth. "Pretty clever. You buy the used car. You pay with cash. You give a phony name if any name at all. You get the title, but you never register it or buy insurance. You steal a license plate from a similar make and you're on your way."

"Yep." Tremont smiled. "Except for one thing."


"The guy who sold them the car-"


"Yep. Man and a woman. He says mid-thirties. I'm going for a full description, but we may have something better. The guy who sold it, Scott Parsons from Kasselton, works in Best Buy. They have a pretty good security system. All digital. So they save everything. He thinks they may have a time-delay film of them. He's having a tech guy check now. I sent a car to go bring him in, let him look at some mug shots, get the best ID I can."

"We have a sketch artist he can work with?"

Tremont nodded. "Taken care of."

It was a legit lead-the best they'd gotten. Muse wasn't sure what to say.

"What else we got going on?" Tremont asked.

She filled him in on the nothingness of the credit card records, the phone records, the e-mails. Tremont sat back and rested his hands on his paunch.

"When I came in," Tremont said, "you were chewing hard on that pencil. What were you thinking about?"

"The assumption now is that this might be a serial killer."

"You're not buying that," he said.

"I'm not."

"Neither am I," Tremont said. "So let's review what we got."

Muse rose and started pacing. "Two victims. So far, that's it-at least in this area. We have people checking but let's assume that we don't find any more. Let's say this is it. Let's say it is just Reba Cor- dova-who might be alive for all we know-and Jane Doe."

Tremont said, "Okay."

"And let's take it one step further. Let's say that there is a reason why these two women were the victims."

"Like what?"

"I don't know yet, but just follow me here. If there is a reason... forget that. Even if there is no reason and we assume that this is not the work of a serial killer, there has to be a connection between our two victims."

Tremont nodded, seeing where she was going with this. "And if there's a connection between them," he said, "they might very well know each other."

Muse froze. "Exactly."

"And if Reba Cordova knew Jane Doe..." Tremont smiled up at her.

"Then Neil Cordova might know Jane Doe too. Call the Livingston Police Department. Tell them to bring Cordova in. Maybe he can identify her for us."

"On it."


He turned back at her.

"Good work," she said.

"I'm a good cop," he said.

She didn't reply to that.

He pointed at her. "You're a good cop too, Muse. Maybe even a great one. But you're not a good chief. See, a good chief would have gotten the most out of her good cops. You didn't. You need to learn how to manage other people."

Muse shook her head. "Yeah, Frank, that's it. My managerial skills made you screw up and think Jane Doe was a hooker. My bad."

He smiled. "I caught this case," he said.

"And messed it up."

"I may have gotten it wrong to start, but I'm still here. Doesn't matter what I think of you. Doesn't matter what you think of me. All that matters is that we find justice for my victim."