Chapter 5

"SO what did you see on Adam's computer?" Mike asked.

They sat at the kitchen table. Tia had already made coffee. She was drinking a decaf Breakfast Blend. Mike was going with pure black espresso. One of his patients worked for a company that made coffee machines with pods rather than filters. He gave Mike one as a gift after a successful transplant. The machine was simple: You take your pod, you put it in, it makes the coffee.

"Two things," Tia said.


"First off, he's invited to a party tomorrow night at the Huffs," Tia said.


"And the Huffs are away for the weekend. According to the e-mail, they will all spend the night getting high."

"Booze, drugs, what?"

"The e-mail isn't clear. They plan on coming up with some excuse to sleep over so they can get-and I quote-'totally wasted.' "

The Huffs. Daniel Huff, the father, was the captain of the town police force. His son-everyone called him DJ-was probably the biggest troublemaker in the grade.

"What?" she said.

"I'm just processing."

Tia swallowed. "Who are we raising, Mike?"

He said nothing.

"I know you don't want to look at these computer reports, but..." Her eyes closed.


"Adam watches online porn," she said. "Did you know that?"

He said nothing.


"So what do you want to do about that?" he asked.

"You don't think it's wrong?"

"When I was sixteen, I sneaked Playboy."

"That's different."

"Is it? That's what we had then. We didn't have the Internet. If we did, sure, I probably would have gone in that direction-anything to see a naked woman. It's society today. You can't turn anything on without getting an eye- or earful. If a sixteen-year-old boy wasn't interested in seeing naked women, that would be bizarre."

"So you approve?"

"No, of course not. I just don't know what to do about it."

"Talk to him," she said.

"I have," Mike said. "I've explained the birds-n-bees. I've explained that sex is best when blended with love. I've tried to teach him to respect women, not objectify them."

"That last one," Tia said. "He's not getting that last one."

"No male teenager gets that last one. Hell, I'm not even sure any male adult gets that one."

Tia sipped from her mug. She let the unasked question hang in the air.

He could see the crow's-feet in her eyes. She stared at them in the mirror a lot. All women have body-image issues, but Tia had always had a great deal of confidence in her looks. Lately, though, he could see that she was no longer looking at her reflection and feeling okay. She had started coloring her gray. She was seeing the lines, the sags, the normal aging stuff, and it was bothering her.

"It's different with a grown man," she said.

He was going to try to say something comforting but decided to quit while ahead.

Tia said, "We've opened a Pandora's box."

He hoped that she was still talking about Adam. "We have indeed."

"I want to know. And I hate knowing."

He reached out and took her hand. "What do we do about this party?"

"What do you think?"

"We can't let him go," he said.

"So we keep him in the house?"

"I guess."

"He told me that he and Clark were going to Olivia Burchell's to hang out. If we just forbid him to go, he'll know something is up."

Mike shrugged. "Too bad. We're parents. We're allowed to be irrational."

"Okay. So we tell him we want him home tomorrow night?"


She bit her lower lip. "He's been good all week, did all his homework. We normally let him go out on Friday nights."

It would be a battle. They both knew that. Mike was ready for a battle, but did he want one here? You have to choose your spots. And forbidding him from going to Olivia Burchell's house-it would make Adam suspicious.

"How about if we give him a curfew?" he asked.

"And what do we do when he breaks it? Show up at the Huffs?"

She was right.

"Hester called me in her office," Tia said. "She wants me to go to Boston tomorrow for a deposition."

Mike knew how much that meant to her. Since going back to work, most of her assignments had been scut work. "That's great."

"Yeah. But that means I won't be home."

"No problem, I can handle it," Mike said.

"Jill is having a sleepover at Yasmin's. So she won't be around."


"So any idea how to keep Adam from going to this party?"

"Let me think about it," Mike said. "I may have an idea."


He saw something cross her face. Then he remembered. "You said two things were bothering you."

She nodded and something happened to her face. Not much. If you were playing poker, you might call it a tell. That was the thing when you are married a long time. You can read the tells so easily-or maybe your partner doesn't care to hide them anymore. Whatever, Mike knew that this was not going to be good news.

"An instant-message exchange," Tia said. "From two days ago."

She reached into her purse and pulled it out. Instant-messaging. Kids talked via typing in live time to one another. The results came out with the name and a colon like some awful screenplay. Parents, most of whom had spent many an adolescent hour doing the same thing on plain old phones, bemoaned this development. Mike didn't really see the problem. We had phones, they have IM and texting. Same thing. It reminded Mike of those old people who curse out the younger generation's video games while hopping on a bus to Atlantic City to play video slots. Hypocrisy, right?

"Take a look."

Mike slipped on his reading glasses. He had just started using them a few months back and had quickly grown to detest the inconvenience. Adam's screen name was still HockeyAdam1117. He had picked that out years ago. The number was Mark Messier's, his favorite hockey player, and Mike's own number seventeen from his Dartmouth days, combined. Funny that Adam hadn't changed it. Or maybe again that made perfect sense. Or maybe, most likely, it meant nothing.

CeeJay8115: U ok?

HockeyAdam1117: I still think we should say something.

CeeJay8115: It's long over. Just stay quiet and all safe.

According to the timer, there was no typing for a full minute.

CeeJay8115: U there?

HockeyAdam1117: Yes

CeeJay8115: All ok?

HockeyAdam1117: All ok.

CeeJay8115: Good. C U Fri.

That was the end.

" 'Stay quiet and all safe,' " Mike repeated.


"What do you think it means?" he asked.

"No idea."

"Could be something with school. Like maybe they saw someone cheat on a test or something."

"Could be."

"Or it could be nothing. Could be like part of one of those online adventure games."

"Could be," Tia said again, clearly not buying.

"Who is CeeJay8115?" Mike asked.

She shook her head. "It's the first time I've seen Adam IM with him."

"Or her."

"Right, or her."

" 'See you Friday.' So CeeJay8115 will be at the Huff party. Does that help us?"

"I don't see how."

"So do we ask him about it?"

Tia shook her head. "It's too vague, don't you think?"

"I do," Mike agreed. "And it would mean letting him know we're spying on him."

They both stood there. Mike read it again. The words didn't change.



"What would Adam need to stay quiet about in order to be safe?"

NASH, the bushy mustache in his pocket, sat in the van's passenger seat. Pietra, the straw-haired wig off, drove.

In his right hand, Nash held Marianne's mobile device. It was a BlackBerry Pearl. You could e-mail, take pictures, watch videos, text, synch your calendar and address book with your home computer, and even make phone calls.

Nash touched the button. The screen lit up. A photograph of Mar- ianne's daughter popped up. He stared at it for a moment. Pitiful, he thought. He hit the icon to get to her e-mail, found the e-mail addresses he wanted, began to compose:

Hi! I'm going to Los Angeles for a few weeks. I will be in touch when I get back.

He signed it "Marianne," did the copy feature, and pasted the same message into two other e-mails. Then he hit SEND. Those who knew Marianne wouldn't search too hard. This, from what Nash could figure, was her modus operandi-disappearing and then popping back up.

But this time... well, disappearing, yes.

Pietra had drugged Marianne's drink while Nash kept her occupied with the Cain-ape theory. When they had her in the van, Nash had beaten her. He had beaten her badly and for a long time. He had beaten her at first to elicit pain. He wanted her to talk. When he was sure she had told him everything, he then beat her to death. He was patient. There are fourteen stationary bones in the face. He wanted to snap and cave in as many as possible.

Nash had punched Marianne's face with almost surgical precision. Some shots were designed to neutralize an opponent-take the fight out of them. Some shots were designed to cause horrible pain. Some were designed to cause physical destruction. Nash knew them all. He knew how to keep his knuckles and hands protected while using maximum force, how to make the proper fist so you don't hurt yourself, how to use the palm strike effectively.

Right before Marianne died, when the breathing was raspy from the blood lodged in her throat, Nash did what he always did in those situations. He stopped and made sure that she was still conscious. Then he had her look up at him, locked his gaze on hers, saw the terror in her eyes:


He wanted her attention. He got it. And then he whispered the last words she would ever hear:

"Please tell Cassandra I miss her."

And then, finally, he allowed her to die.

The van was stolen. The license plates had been changed to confuse the issue. Nash slipped into the backseat. He jammed a bandana into Marianne's hand and tightened her fingers around it. He used a razor to cut off Marianne's clothing. When she was naked, he took fresh clothes out of a shopping bag. He struggled but he managed to get them on her. The pink top was too snug but that was the point. The leather skirt was ridiculously short.

Pietra had picked them out.

They had started off with Marianne in a bar in Teaneck, New Jersey. Now they were in Newark, the slums of the Fifth Ward, known for its streetwalkers and murders. That was what she'd be mistaken for-another beaten whore. Newark had a per capita murder rate three times nearby New York City 's. So Nash had beaten her good and knocked out most of her teeth. Not all of them. Removing all her teeth would make it too obvious he wanted to hide her identity.

So he left some intact. But a dental match-assuming they found enough evidence to warrant looking for a match-would be hard and take a long time.

Nash slipped the mustache back on and Pietra put on the wig. It was an unnecessary precaution. No one was around. They unloaded the body in a Dumpster. Nash looked down at Marianne's corpse.

He thought of Cassandra. His heart felt heavy, but it gave him strength too.

"Nash?" Pietra said.

He gave her a small smile and got back into the van. Pietra put the van in drive and they were gone.

MIKE stood by Adam's door, braced himself, opened it.

Adam, dressed in black goth, swung around quickly. "Ever hear of knocking?"

"This is my house."

"And this is my room."

"Really? You paid for it?"

He hated the words as soon as they came out. Classic parental jus- tification. Kids scoff and tune it out. He would have when he was young. Why do we do that? Why-when we swear we won't repeat the wrongs of the previous generation-do we always do exactly that?

Adam had already clicked on a button that blackened his screen. He didn't want Dad knowing where he'd been surfing. If he only knew...

"I got good news," Mike said.

Adam turned to him. He folded his arms across his chest and tried to look surly, but it wasn't happening. The kid was big-bigger than his father already-and Mike knew that he could be tough. He'd been fearless in goal. He didn't wait for his defensemen to protect him. If someone had gone into his crease, Adam had taken them out.

"What?" Adam said.

"Mo got us box seats to the Rangers against the Flyers."

His expression didn't change. "For when?"

"Tomorrow night. Mom's going to Boston to take a deposition. Mo's going to pick us up at six."

"Take Jill."

"She's having a sleepover at Yasmin's."

"You're letting her overnight at XY's?"

"Don't call her that. It's mean."

Adam shrugged. "Whatever."

Whatever-always a great teenage comeback.

"So come home after school and I'll pick you up."

"I can't go."

Mike took in the room. It looked somehow different from when he'd sneaked in with the tattooed Brett, he of the dirty fingernails. That thought got to him again. Brett's dirty fingernails had been on the keyboard. It was wrong. Spying was wrong. But then again, if they hadn't, Adam would be heading to a party with drinking and maybe drugs. So spying had been a good thing. Then again Mike had gone to a party or two like that when he was underage. He had survived. Was he any worse for wear?

"What do you mean you can't go?"

"I'm going to Olivia's."

"Your mother told me. You go to Olivia's all the time. This is Rangers-Flyers."

"I don't want to go."

"Mo bought the tickets already."

"Tell him to take someone else."



"Yeah, no. I'm your father. You're going to the game."


"No buts."

Mike turned and left the room before Adam could say another word.

Wow, Mike thought. Did I really say No buts?