Chapter 30

AS soon as the two girls were alone in the bedroom, Yasmin started crying.

"What's wrong?" Jill asked.

Yasmin pointed at her computer and sat. "People are so horrible."

"What happened?'

"I'll show you. It's so mean."

Jill pulled the chair and sat next to her friend. She bit down on a fingernail.



"I'm worried about my brother. And something happened to my dad too. That's why Mom dropped me back off here."

"Did you ask your mom about it?"

"She won't tell me."

Yasmin wiped her tears, still typing. "They always want to protect us, don't they?"

Jill wondered if Yasmin was being sarcastic or serious or maybe a little of both. Yasmin's eyes were back on the monitor. She pointed.

"Wait, here it is. Take a look."

It was a MySpace page entitled "Male or Female?-The Story of XY."The wallpaper had a plethora of gorillas and monkeys. Under favorite movies, the two listed were Planet of the Apesand Hair.The default song was Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey." There were National Geographic videos, all involving primates. One was a YouTube short called "Dancing Gorilla."

But the worst part was the default picture-a school photograph of Yasmin with a beard drawn over the face.

Jill whispered, "I can't believe it."

Yasmin started crying again.

"How did you find this?"

"Marie Alexandra, that bitch, sent me the link. She copied in half the class."

"Who made it up?"

"I don't know. I bet she did. She sent it like she was all concerned but I could almost hear her giggling, you know?"

"And she copied other people in?"

"Yes. Heidi and Annie and..."

Jill shook her head. "I'm sorry."


Jill said nothing.

Yasmin's face turned red. "Someone has to pay for this."

Jill looked at her friend. Yasmin used to be so gentle. She used to love to play the piano and dance and laugh at dumb movies. Now all Jill could see was the rage. It scared her. So much had gone wrong in the past few days. Her brother had run away, her father was in some kind of trouble, and now Yasmin was angrier than ever.


It was Mr. Novak calling from downstairs. Yasmin wiped the tears off her face. She opened the door and called out, "Yes, Daddy?"

"I made some popcorn."

"We'll be down in a minute."

"Beth and I were thinking about taking you guys to the mall. We can see a movie or maybe you two can play at the arcade. What do you think?"

"We'll be down in a second."

Yasmin closed the door again.

"My dad needs to get out of the house. He's been freaking."


"The weirdest thing happened. Mr. Lewiston's wife showed up."

"At your house? No way."

Yasmin nodded, her eyes widened. "I mean, I guess it was her. I've never seen her, but she was driving his crappy car."

"So what happened?"

"They started arguing."

"Oh my God."

"I couldn't hear. But she looked really pissed."

From downstairs: "Popcorn's ready!"

The two girls came downstairs. Guy Novak was waiting for them. His smile was strained. "IMAX has the new Spider-Man movie," he said.

The doorbell rang.

Guy Novak turned to it. His body tensed.


"I'll get it," he said.

He started for the front door. The two girls followed, keeping a little distance. Beth was there. Mr. Novak looked out the little window, frowned, opened the door. A woman stood in the doorway. Jill looked at Yasmin. Yasmin shook her head. This woman was not Mr. Lewiston's wife.

Mr. Novak said, "Can I help you?"

The woman peeked behind him, saw the girls, then looked back up at Yasmin's dad.

"Are you Guy Novak?" the woman asked.


"My name is Loren Muse. Can we talk a moment in private?"

LOREN Muse stood in the doorway.

She spotted the two little girls behind Guy Novak. One was probably his daughter, the other, well, maybe she belonged to the woman standing behind them both. The woman, she quickly noted, was not Reba Cordova. The woman looked fine and fairly relaxed, but you never know. Muse kept her eyes on her, looking for some sort of signal to show that she was under duress.

There were no signs of blood or trauma in the foyer. The girls looked a little timid but otherwise okay. Before she rang the bell, Muse had pressed her ear against the door. She'd heard nothing unusual, just Guy Novak calling upstairs about popcorn and a movie.

"What's this about?" Guy Novak asked.

"I think it would be better if we talked alone."

She stressed the word "alone," hoping he would get the hint. He didn't.

"Who are you?" he asked.

Muse did not want to identify herself as a law enforcement officer with the girls still in the room, so she leaned in, glanced at the girls, and then looked him hard in the eye. "I think it would be better in private, Mr. Novak."

He finally got the message. He turned back to the woman and said, "Beth, would you take the girls into the kitchen and give them popcorn?"

"Of course."

Muse watched them slip out of the room. She was trying to read Guy Novak. He seemed a little on edge, but something about his manner suggested that he was more irritated with her surprise arrival than truly scared.

Clarence Morrow and Frank Tremont, along with a few local cops, were nearby. They were surreptitiously checking around. There was still faint hope that maybe Guy Novak had kidnapped Reba Cordova and was holding her here, but as the seconds passed, that seemed less and less likely.

Guy Novak did not invite her in. "Well?"

Muse flashed her badge.

"You're kidding me," he said. "Did the Lewistons call you?"

Muse had no idea who the Lewistons were, but she decided to go with it. She made a yes-no gesture with a head tilt.

"I can't believe this. All I did was drive by their house. That's all. Since when is that against the law?"

"Depends," Muse said.

"On what?"

"On your intentions."

Guy Novak pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Do you know what that man did to my daughter?"

She had no idea, but whatever it was, it had clearly agitated Guy Novak. That pleased her-she could work with that.

"I'll listen to your side," she said.

He started railing then about something a teacher had said about his daughter. Muse watched his face. Again, like with Neil Cordova, she got no sense that this was an act for her benefit. He ranted about the injustice of what had been done to his little girl, Yasmin, and how this teacher didn't even get a slap on the wrist.

When he took a breath, Muse asked, "How does your wife feel about this?"

"I'm not married."

Muse knew that already. "Oh, I thought the woman who was with the girls..."

"Beth. She's just a friend."

Again she waited him out, seeing what else he would tell her.

He took a few deep breaths and said, "Okay, I got the message."

"The message?"

"I assume the Lewistons called to complain. Message received. I will review my options with my lawyer."

This track was leading nowhere, Muse thought. Time to shift gears. "Can I ask you something else?"

"I guess."

"How did Yasmin's mother react to all this?"

His eyes narrowed. "Why would you ask that?"

"It's not an unreasonable question."

"Yasmin's mother isn't very involved in her life."

"Still. A big event like this."

"Marianne ran out on us when Yasmin was little. She lives in Florida and sees her daughter maybe four or five times a year."

"When was the last time she was up?"

He frowned. "What does that have to do with... wait a minute, can I see your badge again?"

Muse took it out. This time he studied it. "You're county?"


"Do you mind if I call your office and verify that this is legitimate?"

"Suit yourself." Muse reached into her pocket and pulled out a card. "Here."

He read it out loud. "Loren Muse, Chief Investigator."


"Chief," he repeated. "What are you, a personal friend of the Lewistons?"

Again Muse wondered if this was a clever act or if Guy Novak was for real.

"Tell me when you last saw your ex-wife."

He rubbed his chin. "I thought you said this was about the Lewistons."

"Please just answer my question. When was the last time you saw your ex-wife?"

"Three weeks ago."

"Why was she here?"

"She came up to visit Yasmin."

"Did you talk to her?"

"Not really. She picked up Yasmin. She promised that she'd have her back by a certain time. Marianne usually keeps to that. She doesn't like to spend a lot of time with her daughter."

"Have you spoken to her since?"


"Uh-huh. Do you know where she usually stayed when she visited?"

"At the Travelodge near the mall."

"Are you aware she's been staying there for the past four nights?" He looked surprised. "She said she was heading to Los Angeles."

"When did she tell you that?"

"I got an e-mail from her, uh, I don't know. Yesterday I think."

"May I see it?"

"The e-mail? I deleted it."

"Do you know if your ex-wife had a boyfriend?"

Something approaching a sneer crossed his face. "I'm sure she had several but I wouldn't know about it."

"Any men in this area?"

"There were men in every area."

"Any names?"

Guy Novak shook his head. "I wouldn't know or care."

"Why so bitter, Mr. Novak?"

"I don't know if 'bitter' is the right word anymore." He took off his glasses, frowned at some speck of dirt, tried to clean them with his shirt. "I loved Marianne, but she really didn't earn it. If you're being kind, you would call her self-destructive. This town bored her. I bored her. Life bored her. She was a serial cheater. She abandoned her own daughter and then became nothing but a source of disappointment. Two years ago Marianne promised Yasmin she'd take her to Disney World. She called me the day before the trip and canceled. No reason."

"Do you pay alimony or child support?"

"Neither. I have sole custody."

"Does your ex-wife still have friends in the area?"

"I wouldn't really know, but I doubt it."

"How about Reba Cordova?"

Guy Novak thought about that. "They were good friends when Marianne lived here. Very close. I never knew why. The two women couldn't be more different. But yeah, I mean, if Marianne still kept in touch with anyone in the area, it would probably be Reba."

"When was the last time you saw Reba Cordova?"

He looked up and to his right. "It's been a while. I don't know, maybe a back-to-school night or something."

If he knew that his ex had been murdered, Muse thought, he was a pretty cool customer.

"Reba Cordova is missing."

Guy Novak opened his mouth, closed it. "And you think Marianne has something to do with it?"

"Do you?"

"She's self-destructive. But the key word is 'self.' I don't think she'd hurt anyone else, except maybe her own family."

"Mr. Novak, I would very much like to talk to your daughter."


"Because we think that your ex-wife was murdered."

She said it just like that and waited for the reaction. It was slow in coming. It was as if the words were floating toward him one at a time, and it was taking him a long time to hear and process them. For a few seconds he did nothing. He just stood and stared. Then he made a face like maybe he'd heard wrong.

"I don't... you thinkshe's been murdered?"

Muse looked back and nodded. Clarence started toward the door. "We found a body in an alley dressed like a prostitute. Neil Cordova believes that it's your ex-wife, Marianne Gillespie. What we need you to do, Mr. Novak, is to accompany my colleague Investigator Morrow to the medical examiner's office so that you can see the body for yourself. Do you understand?"

His tone was numb. "Marianne is dead?"

"We believe so, yes, but that's why we need your help. Investigator Morrow will take you to the body and ask you a few questions. Your friend Beth can stay with the children. I will be here too. I want to ask your daughter about her mother, if that's okay?"

"Fine," he said. And that took a lot of the pressure off him. If he had started hemming and hawing, well, the ex-husband is always a good candidate. Not that she was totally sure that he wasn't involved. She could have run into another great actor in the league of De Niro or Cordova. But again she doubted it. Either way, Clarence would question him.

Clarence said, "Mr. Novak, you ready?"

"I need to tell my daughter."

"I would rather you didn't," Muse said.

"Excuse me?"

"Like I said, we don't know for sure. I will ask her questions, but I won't tell her. I will leave that to you, if it is necessary at all."

Guy Novak nodded through his daze. "Okay."

Clarence took his arm and said in the gentlest voice, "Let's go, Mr. Novak. This way."

Muse did not bother watching Clarence escort him down the path. She entered and headed into the kitchen. The two little girls sat wide-eyed, pretending to eat popcorn.

One of them asked, "Who are you?"

Muse managed a tight smile. "My name is Loren Muse. I work for the county."

"Where's my father?"

"Are you Yasmin?"


"Your dad is helping one of my officers. He'll be back. But right now I need to ask you a few questions, okay?"