Chapter 26

AFTER saying good-bye to Betsy Hill, Tia closed the front door and headed upstairs. She crept down the corridor, past Jill's room and into her son's. She opened Adam's desk drawer and started ri- fling through it. Putting that spy software on his computer had felt so right-so why didn't this? Self-loathing rose up in her. It all felt wrong now, this whole invasion of privacy.

But she didn't stop looking.

Adam was a kid. Still. The drawer hadn't been cleaned out in forever, and there were remnants from past "Adam eras," like something unearthed in an archeological dig. Baseball cards, Pokemon cards, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yamaguchi with a long-dead battery, Crazy Bones-all the "in" items that kids collected and then dispensed with. Adam had been better than most about the must-have items. He didn't beg for more or immediately toss them aside.

She shook her head. They were still in his drawer.

There were pens and pencils and his old orthodontia retainer case (Tia had constantly nagged him about not wearing it), collector pins from a trip to Disney World four years ago, old ticket stubs from a dozen Rangers games. She picked up the stubs and remembered the blend of joy and concentration on his face when he watched hockey. She remembered the way he and his father would celebrate when the Rangers scored, standing and high-fiving and singing the dumb goal-scoring song, which basically consisted of going "oh, oh, oh" and clapping.

She started to cry.

Pull it together, Tia.

She turned to the computer. That was Adam's world now. A kid's room was about his computer. On that screen, Adam played the latest version of Halo online. He talked to both strangers and friends in chat rooms. He conversed with real and cyber buddies via Facebook and MySpace. He played a little online poker but got bored with it, which pleased Mike and Tia. There were funny briefs on YouTube and movie trailers and music videos and, yes, racy material. There were other adventure games or reality simulators or whatever you'd call them where a person could vanish in the same way Tia could vanish into a book, and it was so hard to know if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

The whole sex thing nowadays too-it drove her mad. You want to make it right and control the flow of information for your kids, but that was impossible. Flip on any morning radio and the jocks riffed on boobs and infidelity and orgasms. You open up any magazine or turn on any television show, well, to complain about the nonstop eyeful is passe. So how do you handle it? Do you tell your child it's wrong? And what's wrong exactly?

No wonder people found comfort in black-and-white answers like abstinence but come on, that doesn't work and you don't want to send the message that sex is somehow wrong or evil or even ta- boo-and yet, you don't want them doing it. You want to tell them it is something good and healthy-but shouldn't be done. So how exactly is a parent supposed to work that balance? Weirdly enough, we all want our children to have our outlook too, as if somehow ours, despite our parents' screwups, is best and healthiest. But why? Were we raised exactly right or did we somehow find this balance on our own? Will they?

"Hey, Mom."

Jill had come to the door. She gave her mother a puzzled look, surprised, Tia guessed, to see her in Adam's room. There was a hush now. It lasted a second, no more, but Tia felt a cold gust across her chest.

"Hey, sweetheart."

Jill was holding Tia's BlackBerry. "Can I play BrickBreaker?"

She loved to play the games on her mom's BlackBerry. Normally this was the time when Tia would gently scold for not asking before taking her phone. Like most kids, Jill did it all the time. She would use the BlackBerry or borrow Tia's iPod or use the bedroom computer because hers wasn't as powerful or leave the portable phone in her room and then Tia couldn't find it.

Now, however, did not seem the time for the standard responsibility lecture.

"Sure. But if anything buzzes, please give it to me right away."

"Okay." Jill took in the whole room. "What are you doing in here?"

"I'm looking around."

"For what?"

"I don't know. A clue to where your brother is, maybe."

"He'll be okay, right?"

"Of course, please don't worry." Then remembering that life does not stop and craving some form of normalcy, Tia asked, "Do you have any homework?"

"It's done."

"Good. Everything else okay?"

Jill shrugged.

"Anything you want to talk about?"

"No, I'm fine. I'm just worried about Adam."

"I know, sweetheart. How are things at school?"

Another shrug. Dumb question. Tia had asked both her children that question several thousand times over the years and never, not once, had she gotten an answer beyond a shrug or "fine" or "okay" or "school is school."

Tia left her son's room then. There was nothing to find here. The printout from the E-SpyRight report was waiting for her. She closed her door and checked the pages. Adam's friends Clark and Olivia had e-mailed him this morning, though the messages were rather cryptic. Both wanted to know where he was and mentioned that his parents had been calling around looking for him.

There was no e-mail from DJ Huff.

Hmm. DJ and Adam conversed a lot. Suddenly no e-mail-as if maybe he knew that Adam wouldn't be around to reply.

There was a gentle knock on her door. "Mom?"

"You can open it."

Jill turned the knob. "I forgot to tell you. Dr. Forte's office called. I have a dentist appointment for Tuesday."

"Right, thanks."

"Why do I have to go to Dr. Forte's anyway? I just had a cleaning."

The mundane. Again Tia welcomed it. "You may need braces soon."


"Yes. Adam was your..." She stopped.

"My what?"

She turned back to the E-SpyRight report on her bed, the current one, but it wouldn't help. She needed the one with the original e-mail, the one about the party at the Huffs' house.

"Mom? What's going on?"

Tia and Mike had been good about getting rid of old reports via the shredder, but she had saved that e-mail to show Mike. Where was it? She looked next to her bed. Piles of paper. She started going through them.

"Can I help with something?" Jill asked.

"No, it's fine, sweetheart."

Not there. She stood up. No matter.

Tia quickly jumped back online. The E-SpyRight site was bookmarked in her favorites area. She signed on and clicked the archives button. She found the right date and asked for the old report.

No need to print it out. When it came up on the screen, Tia scanned down until she reached the Huff-party e-mail. She didn't bother with the message itself-about the Huffs being away, about the party and getting high-but now that she thought about it, what had happened to that? Mike had gone by and not only had there been no party, but Daniel Huff was home.

Had the Huffs changed plans?

But that wasn't the point right now. Tia moved the cursor over to check out what most would think would be the least relevant.

The time and date columns.

The E-SpyRight told you not only the time and date the e-mail was sent, but the time and date Adam opened it.

"Mom, what's going on?"

"Just give me a second, sweetie."

Tia picked up the phone and called Dr. Forte's phone. It was Saturday, but she knew that with all the after-school kid activities, the area dentists often had weekend hours. She checked her watch and listened to the third ring, then the fourth. Her heart sank on the fifth ring before salvation:

"Dr. Forte's office."

"Hi, good morning, this is Tia Baye, Adam and Jill's mom?"

"Yes, Mrs. Baye, what can I do for you?"

Tia tried to place the name of Forte's receptionist. She had been there for years, knew everyone, ran the place really. She was the gatekeeper. It came to her. "Is this Caroline?"

"Yes, it is."

"Hi, Caroline. Listen, this may sound like an odd request, but I desperately need a favor from you."

"Well, I'll try. We're pretty jammed up next week."

"No, it's not that. Adam had an after-school appointment on the eighteenth at three forty-five P.M."

No reply.

"I need to know if he was there."

"You mean if he was a no-show?"


"Oh, no, I would have called you. Adam was definitely here."

"Do you know if he was on time?"

"I can give you the exact time, if that would help. It's on the sign-in sheet."

"Yes, that would be great."

More delay. Tia heard the sound of fingers tapping on a computer. Papers were being shuffled.

"Adam got here early, Mrs. Baye-he signed in at three twenty P.M."

That would make sense, Tia thought. He normally walked directly from school.

"And we saw him on time-at exactly three forty-five P.M. Is that what you needed to know?"

The phone nearly dropped from Tia's hand. Something was so very wrong. Tia checked the screen again-the time and date columns.

The Huff-party e-mail had been sent at 3:32 P.M. It had been read at 3:37 P.M.

Adam hadn't been home then.

This made no sense unless...

"Thank you, Caroline." She quickly called Brett, her computer expert. He answered his phone: "Yo."

Tia decided to put him on the defensive. "Thanks for selling me out to Hester."

"Tia? Oh, look, I'm sorry about that."

"Yeah, I bet."

"No, seriously, Hester knows everything around here. Do you realize that she monitors every computer in the place? Sometimes she just reads the personal e-mails for fun. She figures if you're on her property-"

"I wasn't on her property."

"I know, I'm sorry."

Time to move on. "According to the E-SpyRight report, my son read an e-mail at three thirty-seven P.M."


"So he wasn't home at that time. Could he have read it elsewhere?"

"You're getting this from E-SpyRight?"


"Then the answer is no. The E-SpyRight is just monitoring his computer activities on that computer only. So if he signed in and read the e-mail elsewhere, it wouldn't be in the report."

"So how could this be?"

"Hmm. Well, first off, are you sure he wasn't home?"


"Well, somebody was. And that somebody was on his computer."

Tia looked again. "It says it was deleted at three thirty-eight P.M."

"So someone went on your son's computer, read the e-mail, and then deleted it."

"Then Adam would have never seen it, right?"

"Probably not."

She quickly dismissed the most obvious suspects: She and Mike were at work that day, and Jill had walked with Yasmin to the No- vaks' house for a playdate.

None of them were home.

How could someone else have gotten it without leaving any signs of a break-in? She thought about that key, the one they hid in the fake rock outside by the fence post.

The caller ID buzzed in. She saw that it was Mo.

"Brett, I'll have to call you back." She clicked over. "Mo?"

"You're not going to believe this," he said, "but the FBI just picked up Mike."

SITTING in the makeshift interrogation room, Loren Muse took a good long look at Neil Cordova.

He was on the short side, small-boned, compact, and handsome in an almost too unblemished way. He looked a little like his wife when you put them side by side. Muse knew this because Cordova had brought photographs of them together, lots of them-on cruises, on beaches, at formals, at parties, in the backyard. Neil and Reba Cordova were photogenic and healthy and liked to pose cheek to cheek. They looked happy in every single photograph.

"Please find her," Neil Cordova said for the third time since entering the room.

She had already said, "We're doing all we can," twice, so she saved it.

He added, "I want to cooperate in any way I can."

Neil Cordova had close-cropped hair and was dressed in a blazer and tie, as though that was expected of him, as if the outfit itself could help hold him together. There was a nice shine to his shoes. Muse thought about that. Her own father had been big on shined shoes. "Judge a man by the shine on his shoes," he would tell his young daughter. Nice to know. When a fourteen-year-old Loren Muse had found her father's body in the garage-he'd gone in there and blown his brains out-there had indeed been a nice shine to his shoes.

Good advice, Dad. Thanks for the suicide protocol.

"I know how it is," Cordova went on. "The husband is always a suspect, right?"

Muse did not reply.

"And you think Reba had an affair because her car was parked at that motel-but I swear to you, it's not like that. You have to believe me."

Muse made her face stone. "We aren't ruling anything in or out."

"I'll take a polygraph, no lawyer, whatever you need. I just don't want you to waste time looking down the wrong avenue. Reba didn't run away, I know that. And I had nothing to do with what happened to her."

You never believe anybody, Muse thought. That was the rule. She had questioned suspects whose acting skills could put De Niro on unemployment. But the evidence so far backed him, and everything inside her told her that Neil Cordova was telling the truth. Besides, for right now, it didn't matter.

Muse had brought Cordova down to identify the body of her Jane Doe. Foe or ally, that was what she needed desperately. His cooperation. So she said, "Mr. Cordova, I don't think you harmed your wife."

The relief came in immediately but vanished just as fast. This wasn't about him, she saw. He was just worried about the beautiful woman in those beautiful photographs.

"Has anything been bothering your wife lately?"

"Not really, no. Sarah-that's our eight-year-old"-he caught himself, put his knuckle in his mouth, closed his eyes and bit down- "Sarah is having some trouble reading. I told the Livingston police when they asked the same thing. Reba has been worried about that."

That wasn't going to help, but at least he was talking.

"Let me ask you something that may sound a little strange," Muse said.

He nodded, leaned forward, waiting desperately to assist.

"Has Reba talked to you about any of her friends having trouble?"

"I'm not sure what you mean by having trouble."

"Let me start with this. I assume no one you know is missing."

"You mean, like my wife?"

"I mean like anything. Take it a step further. Are any of your friends away, even on vacation?"

"The Friedmans are in Buenos Aires for the week. She and Reba are very close."

"Good, good." She knew that Clarence was writing this down. He would check and make sure Mrs. Friedman was where she belonged. "Anyone else?"

Neil worked the question, chewing the inside of his mouth.

"I'm trying to think," he said.

"Relax, it's okay. Anything weird with friends, any sort of trouble, anything."

"Reba told me that the Colders were having marital issues."

"That's good. Anything else?"

"Tonya Eastman recently got a bad result on a mammogram, but she hasn't told her husband yet. She's worried he'll leave her. That's what Reba said. Is this what you want?"

"Yes. Keep going."

He rattled off a few more. Clarence took notes. When Neil Cordova seemed out of steam, Muse got to the heart of the matter.

"Mr. Cordova?"

She met his eye and held it.

"I need you to do me a favor. I really don't want to go into long explanations on why or what it might mean-"

He interrupted her. "Inspector Muse?"


"Don't waste time holding my hand. What do you want?"

"We have a body here. It is definitely notyour wife. Do you understand? Notyour wife. This woman was found dead the night before. We don't know who she is."

"And you think I might?"

"I want you to take a look and see."

His hands lay folded in his lap, and he sat up a little too straight. "Okay," he said. "Let's go."

Muse had considered using photographs for this part and sparing him the horror of viewing the actual corpse. Pictures don't work though. If she had a clear one of the face, sure, maybe, but in this case, it was as if the face had spent too much time under a lawn mower. There was nothing but bone fragments and frayed sinew. Muse could have shown him photos of the torso with the height and weight listed, but experience showed that it was hard to get a real feel that way.

Neil Cordova hadn't wondered about the venue for this interrogation, but that was understandable. They were on Norfolk Street in Newark -the county morgue. Muse had already set it up so they wouldn't have to waste time driving over. She opened the door. Cordova tried to keep his head high. His gait was steady, but the shoulders told more; Muse could see the bunching through the blazer.

The body was ready. Tara O'Neill, the medical examiner, had wrapped gauze around the face. That was the first thing Neil Cordova noticed-the bandages like something out of a mummy movie. He asked why they were there.

"Her face suffered extensive damage," Muse said.

"How am I supposed to recognize her?"

"We were hoping by body type, maybe height, anything."

"I think it would help if I could see the face."

"It won't help, Mr. Cordova."

He took a deep swallow, took another look.

"What happened to her?"

"She was beaten badly."

He turned to Muse. "Do you think something like this happened to my wife?"

"I don't know."

Cordova closed his eyes for a moment, gathered himself, opened them, nodded. "Okay." He nodded some more. "Okay, I understand."

"I know this isn't easy."

"I'm fine." She could see the wet in his eyes. He took one swipe with his sleeve. He looked so much like a little boy when he did that Muse nearly hugged him. She watched him turn back to the body.

"Do you know her?"

"I don't think so."

"Take your time."

"The thing is, she's naked." His eyes were still on the bandaged face, as if trying to maintain modesty. "I mean, if she's someone I know, I would have never seen her that way, you know what I mean?"

"I do. Would it help if we clothed her somehow?"

"No, that's okay. It's just..." He frowned.


Neil Cordova's eyes had been on the victim's neck area. Now they traveled south to her legs. "Can you turn her over?"

"Onto her stomach?"

"Yes. I need to see the back of the leg mostly. But yes."

Muse glanced at Tara O'Neill, who immediately brought an orderly over. They carefully turned Jane Doe facedown. Cordova took a step forward. Muse did not move, not wanting to disturb his concentration. Tara O'Neill and the orderly stepped away. Neil Cordova's eyes continued down the legs. They stopped at the back of her right ankle.

There was a birthmark.

Seconds passed. Muse finally said, "Mr. Cordova?"

"I know who this is."

Muse waited. He started shaking. His hand fluttered to his mouth. His eyes closed.

"Mr. Cordova?"

"It's Marianne," he said. "Dear God, it's Marianne."