Chapter 37

PIETRA heard the cars pull up. She looked out the window and saw a small woman with a purposeful stride moving toward the front door. Pietra looked out the window to her right and saw four squad cars, and she knew.

There was no hesitation. She picked up her cell phone. There was only one number in the speed dial. She pressed down and heard it ring twice.

Nash said, "What's wrong?"

"The police are here."

WHEN Joe Lewiston came back down the stairs, Dolly took one look and said, "What happened?"

"Nothing," he said, his lips feeling numb.

"You look flushed."

"I'm fine."

But Dolly knew her husband. She wasn't buying. She got up and moved toward him. He almost backpedaled and started running away.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, I swear."

She was now standing directly in front of him.

"Was it Guy Novak?" she asked. "Did he do something else? Because if he did..."

Joe put his hands on his wife's shoulders. Her eyes moved over her face. She could always read him. That was the problem. She knew him so well. They had so very few secrets. But this was one of them.

Marianne Gillespie.

She had called for a parent-teacher conference, playing the role of a concerned parent. Marianne had heard about the terrible thing Joe had said to her daughter, Yasmin, but she sounded understanding. People blurt things out, she told him on the phone. People make mistakes. Her ex-husband was crazed with anger, yes, but Marianne said that she was not. She wanted to sit and talk and hear Joe's side of the story.

Maybe, Marianne had suggested, there was a way to make this better.

Joe had been so relieved.

They sat and they talked. Marianne sympathized. She touched his arm. She loved his teaching philosophy. She looked at him with longing and she wore something low-cut and clingy. When they embraced at the end of the conference, it lasted a few seconds too long. She kept her lips near his neck. Her breathing grew funny. So did his.

How could he have been so stupid?

"Joe?" Dolly took a step back. "What is it?"

Marianne had planned the seduction revenge from the beginning. How could he have not seen that? And once Marianne got her way, within hours of leaving her hotel room, the calls started:

"I have it on tape, you bastard..."

Marianne had hidden a camera in the hotel room and threatened to send the tape first to Dolly, then the school board, then every e-mail she could dig out of the school directory. For three days she made the threats. Joe couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. He lost weight. He begged her not to do it. At some point Marianne seemed to lose her drive, as though the whole enterprise of vengeance suddenly wore her out. She called and told him that she wasn't sure if she would send it or not.

She had wanted him to suffer-and he had-and maybe that would be enough for her.

The next day, Marianne sent an e-mail to his wife's work address.

The lying bitch.

Fortunately Dolly was not big on e-mail. Joe had her access code. When he saw the e-mail with the video attached, he totally freaked. He deleted it and changed Dolly's password, so that she couldn't see her own e-mail.

But how long would he be able to pull that off?

He didn't know what to do. There was no one he could talk to about it, no one who would understand and be unconditionally on his side.

And then he thought of Nash.

"Oh God, Dolly..."


He had to put an end to this. Nash had killed someone. He had actually murdered Marianne Gillespie. And the Cordova woman was missing. Joe tried to put it together. Maybe Marianne had given a copy to Reba Cordova. That would make sense.

"Joe, talk to me."

What Joe had done was bad, but bringing in Nash had compounded his crime a thousandfold. He wanted to tell Dolly everything. He knew that it was the only way.

Dolly looked him in the eyes and nodded. "It's okay," she said. "Just tell me."

But then a funny thing happened to Joe Lewiston. The survival instinct kicked in. Yes, what Nash had done was horrible, but why amplify it by committing marital suicide? Why make it worse by destroying Dolly and maybe his family? This was, after all, on Nash. Joe hadn't asked him to go this far-certainly not to kill anyone! He had assumed that maybe Nash would offer to buy the tape from Marianne or make a deal with her or, at worst, scare her. Nash always hit Joe as playing near the edge, but he never in a million years dreamed that he'd do something like this.

What good would it do now to report it?

Nash, who'd been trying to help, would end up in prison. Moreover, who had been the one to recruit Nash in the first place?


Would the police believe that Joe didn't know what Nash was up to? When you thought about it, Nash could be viewed as the hitman, but didn't the police always want the guy who'd hired out the hit more?

Again that would be Joe.

There was still a chance, albeit slight, that this could all end somewhat okay. Nash doesn't get caught. The tape never gets shown. Marianne ends up dead, yes, but there was nothing to be done about that-and hadn't she pretty much asked for that? Hadn't she taken it too far with her blackmail scheme? Joe had made an inadvertent blunder-but hadn't Marianne gone out of her way to seek out and destroy his family?

Except for one thing.

An e-mail had come today. Marianne was dead. Which meant that whatever damage Nash had done, he hadn't plugged all the leaks.

Guy Novak.

He was the last hole to plug. That was where Nash would go. Nash hadn't answered his phone or responded to Joe's messages because he was on a mission to finish the job.

So now Joe knew.

He could sit here and hope it turned out for the best for him. But that would mean that Guy Novak could end up dead.

Which might mean the end of his problems.

"Joe?" Dolly said. "Joe, tell me."

He didn't know what to do. But he wouldn't tell Dolly. They had a young daughter, a budding family. You don't mess around with that.

But you don't just let a man die either.

"I have to go," he said, and he ran for the door.

NASH whispered into Guy Novak's ear: "Yell up to the girls that you're going into the basement and you don't want to be disturbed. Do you understand?"

Guy nodded. He walked to the foot of the stairs. Nash pressed the knife against the back, right near the kidney. The best technique, Nash had learned, was to go a little too far with the pressure. Let them feel enough pain to know that you mean what you're saying.

"Girls! I'm going to the basement for a few minutes. You stay up there, okay? I don't want to be bothered."

A faint voice shouted down, "Okay."

Guy turned toward Nash. Nash let the knife slide across his back and come to rest at his belly. Guy did not flinch or step back. "Did you kill my wife?"

Nash smiled. "I thought she was your ex."

"What do you want?"

"Where are your computers?"

"My laptop is in my bag next to the chair. My desktop is in the kitchen."

"Any others?"

"No. Just take them and get out."

"We need to talk first, Guy."

"I'll tell you whatever you want to know. I have money too. It's yours. Just don't hurt the girls."

Nash looked at this man. He had to know that there was a good chance he would die today. Nothing in his life had ever suggested heroism, yet now it was as though he had enough and was making some sort of final stand.

"I won't touch them if you cooperate," Nash said.

Guy checked Nash's eyes as though searching for the lie. Nash opened the basement door. They both headed down. Nash closed it behind him and flipped on the light. The basement was unfinished. The floor was cold concrete. Water gurgled through pipes. A water-color canvas leaned against a storage chest. There were old hats and posters and cardboard boxes scattered everywhere.

Nash had everything he needed in a gym bag he'd kept over his shoulder. He reached for the duct tape, and Guy Novak made a big mistake.

He threw a punch and shouted, "Run, girls!"

Nash threw a hard elbow to Guy's throat, choking off his words. He followed up with a palm strike to the forehead. Guy crashed to the floor, grabbing his throat.

"If you so much as breathe," Nash said, "I will bring your daughter down here and make you watch. Do you understand?"

Guy froze. Fatherhood could even make a gutless worm like Guy Novak turn valiant. Nash wondered if he and Cassandra would have had children by now. Almost definitely. Cassandra had come from a big family. She had wanted a lot of kids. He wasn't so sure-his outlook on the world was considerably dimmer than hers-but he would never deny her.

Nash looked down. He considered stabbing Novak in the leg or maybe slicing off a finger, but there was no need. Guy had made his move and learned from it. There would be no more.

"Roll onto your stomach and put your hands behind your back."

Guy cooperated. Nash wrapped the duct tape around his wrists and forearms. Then he did the same with the legs. He attached the wrists to the ankles, pulling the arms back and making the legs bend at the knee. Classic hog-tie. The last thing he did was cover Guy's mouth by wrapping tape around his head five times.

Once that was done Nash made his way to the basement door.

Guy started bucking, but there was no need. Nash just wanted to make sure that the girls hadn't heard Guy's stupid scream. He opened the door. In the distance he could still hear the TV. The girls were nowhere in sight. He closed the door and moved back down.

"Your ex-wife made a video. I want you to tell me where it is."

The duct tape was still wrapped around Guy's mouth. The confusion on his face was obvious-how was he supposed to answer the question when his mouth was taped? Nash smiled down at him and showed him the blade.

"You'll tell me in a few minutes, okay?"

Nash's phone vibrated again. Lewiston, he figured, but when he checked the caller ID, he knew the news was not good.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"The police are here," Pietra said.

Nash was barely surprised. One prop goes, it all starts to cave in on itself. Time was tight now. He couldn't stand here and hurt Guy at leisure. He needed to move fast.

So what would make Guy talk fast?

Nash shook his head. That which makes us brave-that which is worth dying for-also makes us weak.

"I'm going to pay your daughter a little visit," he told Guy. "And then you'll talk, right?"

Guy's eyes bulged. Still hog-tied he squirmed and tried to signal what Nash already knew. He would talk. He would tell him everything that he wanted to know if only he'd leave his daughter alone. But Nash knew it would be easier to get the information with his daughter in front of him. Some would say that the threat was enough. They might be right.

But Nash wanted the daughter down here for other reasons.

He took a deep breath. The end was coming now. He could see that. Yes, he wanted to survive and get out of here, but the crazy had not only seeped in but taken over. The crazy lit up his veins, made him feel tingly and alive.

He started up the basement stairs. Behind him, he could hear Guy going nuts in his bindings. For a moment the crazy let up and Nash considered going back. Guy would say anything now. But then again, maybe not. Maybe then it would look like just a threat.

No, he needed to carry through.

He opened the basement door and stepped into the front foyer. He looked at the stairs. The TV was still on. He took one more step.

He stopped when he heard the doorbell ring.

TIA pulled into the Novak driveway. She left her phone and purse in the car and hurried to the front door. She tried to process what Betsy Hill had told her. Her son was okay. That was what was most important. He might have some minor injuries, but he was alive and could stand upright and even dash away. There were other things Adam had told Betsy-about feeling guilty over Spencer, stuff like that. But that could all be handled. You need to survive first. Get him home. After that, you can worry about the other things.

Still lost in these thoughts, Tia rang the Novaks' doorbell.

She swallowed and remembered that this family had just suffered a devastating loss. It was important to reach out, she guessed, but all she really wanted to do was grab her daughter, find her son and husband, get them all back in the house and lock the doors forever.

No one answered the door.

Tia tried to peek through the little window, but there was too much reflection. She cupped her hands around her eyes and peered into the foyer. A figure seemed to jump back. Might have just been a shadow. She pressed the doorbell again. This time there was plenty of noise. The girls made a ruckus stampeding down the stairs.

They charged the door. Yasmin opened it. Jill stood a few feet behind her.

"Hi, Mrs. Baye."

"Hi, Yasmin."

She could see from the girl's face that Guy hadn't told her yet, but that wasn't a surprise. He was waiting for Jill to leave so he could be alone with Yasmin.

"Where's your father?"

Yasmin shrugged. "I think he said something about going in the basement."

For a moment the three just stood there. The house was tomb still. They waited another second or two, waiting for some kind of sound or sign. But there was nothing.

Guy was probably dealing with his grief, Tia figured. She should just take Jill and go home. None of them moved. This suddenly felt wrong. The normal pattern was to act this way when you dropped your child off-walking your child to the door to make sure a parent or babysitter was inside.

Now it felt as though they were leaving Yasmin alone.

Tia called out, "Guy?"

"It's okay, Mrs. Baye. I'm old enough to be by myself now."

That was questionable. They were at that uncertain age. They were probably okay on their own, what with cell phones and all. Jill had started wanting more independence. She had proved herself, she said, to be responsible. Adam had been left on his own when he was her age, which in the end was not such a ringing endorsement.

But that wasn't what was troubling Tia right now. It wasn't a question of leaving Yasmin alone. Her father's car was in the driveway. He was supposed to be here. He was supposed to tell Yasmin what had happened to her mother.


Still no answer.

The girls looked at each other. Something crossed their faces. "Where did you say you thought he was?" Tia asked.

"In the basement."

"What's down there?"

"Nothing really. Just some old boxes and stuff. It's kinda gross."

So why would Guy Novak have suddenly decided to go down there?

The obvious answer was to be alone. Yasmin had said there were old boxes down there. Maybe Guy had packed away some memories of Marianne and he was right now sitting on the floor and sorting through old pictures. Something like that. And maybe with the basement door closed he hadn't heard her.

That made the most sense.

Tia remembered that darting shadow, the one she saw when she peered through the window. Could that have been Guy? Could he be hiding from her? That too made some sense. Maybe he simply didn't have the strength to face her right now. Maybe he didn't want company of any kind. That could be it.

Fine and good, Tia thought, but she still did not like the idea of leaving Yasmin like this.


Her voice was louder now.

Still nothing.

She moved toward the basement door. Too bad if he wanted his privacy. A quick yell of "I'm right here" would have done the trick. She knocked. No answer. Her hand gripped the knob and turned. She pushed it open a little.

The light was off.

She turned back to the girls. "Honey, are you sure he was going down here?"

"That's what he said."

Tia glanced at Jill. She nodded in agreement. Fear started to play around the fringes now. Guy had sounded so down on the phone and then he'd gone to be alone in a dark basement...

No, he wouldn't. He wouldn't do that to Yasmin...

Then Tia heard a noise. Something muffled maybe. Something scraping or struggling. A rat or something.

She heard it again. Not a rat. It sounded like something bigger.

What the...?

She looked at the two girls hard. "I want you to stay up here. Do you hear me? Don't come down unless I call you."

Tia's hand fumbled for the switch on the wall. She found it, turned it on. Her legs were already taking her all the way down. And when she got there, when she looked across the room and saw Guy Novak gagged and tied, she pulled up short and didn't think twice.

She turned and started back up.

"Girls, run! Get out of the..."

The words died in her throat. The basement door in front of her was already closing.

A man stepped into the room. He held a wincing Yasmin by the neck with his right hand. With his left, he held Jill.