Chapter 39

Grace did not want to stay for the press conference.

Being in the same room with all these mourners... She didn't like to use the term "aura," but it seemed to fit. The room had a bad aura. Shattered eyes stared at her with a yearning that was palpable. Grace understood, of course. She was no longer the conduit to their lost children  -  too much time had passed for that. Now she was the survivor. She was there, alive and breathing, while their children rotted in the grave. On the surface there was still affection, but beneath that Grace could feel rage at the unfairness of it all. She had lived  -  their children had not. The years had offered no reprieve. Now that Grace had children of her own, she understood in a way that would have been impossible fifteen years ago.

She was about to slide out the back door when a hand took firm hold of her wrist. She turned and saw it was Carl Vespa.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Home."

"I'll give you a ride."

"That's okay. I can hire a car."

His hand, still on her wrist, tightened for a brief moment and again Grace thought she saw something detonate behind his eyes. "Stay," he said.

It was not a request. She searched his face, but it was oddly calm. Too calm. His demeanor  -  so off with the surroundings, so different from the flash of fury she'd seen last night  -  frightened her anew. Was this really the man she was trusting with her children's lives?

She sat next to him and watched Sandra Koval and Wade Larue take to the podium. Sandra pulled the microphone closer and started up with the standard cliches about forgiveness and starting over and rehabilitation. Grace watched the faces around her shut down. Some cried. Some pursed their lips. Some visibly shook.

Carl Vespa did none of that.

He crossed his legs and leaned back. He surveyed the proceedings with a casualness that scared her more than the worst scowl. Five minutes into Sandra Koval's statement, Vespa's eyes shifted toward Grace. He saw that she'd been watching him. Then he did something that made her shiver.

He winked at her.

"Come on," he whispered. "Let's get out of here."

With Sandra still talking, Carl Vespa rose and headed for the door. Heads turned and there was a brief hush. Grace followed. They took the elevator down in silence. The limousine was right out front. The big burly guy was in the driver's seat.

"Where's Cram?" Grace asked.

"On an errand," Vespa said, and Grace thought she saw the trace of a smile. "Tell me about your meeting with Ms. Koval."

Grace recounted her conversation with her sister-in-law. Vespa stayed silent, gazing out the window, his index finger gently tapping his chin. When she finished, he asked, "Is that everything?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

She did not like the lilt in his tone.

"What about your recent"  -  Vespa looked up, scanning for the word  -  "visitor?"

"You mean Scott Duncan?"

Vespa had the oddest grin. "You are aware, of course, that Scott Duncan works for the U.S. attorney's office."

"Used to," she corrected.

"Yes, used to." His voice was too relaxed. "What did he want with you?"

"I told you."

"Did you?" He shifted in his chair, but he still did not face her. "Did you tell me everything?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just a question. Was this Mr. Duncan your only recent visitor?"

Grace did not like how this was going. She hesitated.

"Nobody else you'd like to tell me about?" he continued.

She tried to search his face for a clue, but he kept it turned away from her. What was he talking about? She mulled it over, replayed the past few days...

Jimmy X?

Could Vespa somehow know about Jimmy stopping by after his concert? It was possible, of course. He had found Jimmy in the first place  -  it would stand to reason that he'd have someone following him. So what should Grace do here? Would saying something now just compound the issue? Maybe he didn't know about Jimmy. Maybe opening her mouth now would just get her in deeper trouble.

Play it vague, she thought. See where it goes. "I know I asked for your help," she said, her tone deliberate. "But I think I'd like to handle this on my own now."

Vespa finally turned toward her and faced her full. "Really?"

She waited.

"Why is that, Grace?"

"Truth?"

"Preferably."

"You're scaring me."

"You think I'd harm you?"

"No."

"Then?"

"I just think it might be best -"

"What did you tell him about me?"

The interruption caught her off guard. "Scott Duncan?"

"Is there anyone else you talked to about me?"

"What? No."

"So what did you say to Scott Duncan about me?"

"Nothing." Grace tried to think. "What could I tell him anyway?"

"Good point." He nodded, more to himself than at Grace. "But you were never very specific on why Mr. Duncan paid you this visit." Vespa folded his hands and put them on his lap. "I'd very much like to know the details."

She didn't want to tell him  -  didn't want him involved anymore  -  but there was no way to avoid it. "It's about his sister."

"What about her?"

"Do you remember the girl crossed out in that picture?"

"Yes."

"Her name was Geri Duncan. She was his sister."

Vespa frowned. "And that's why he came to you?"

"Yes."

"Because his sister was in the photograph?"

"Yes."

He sat back. "So what happened to her, this sister?"

"She died in a fire fifteen years ago."

Vespa surprised Grace then. He didn't ask a follow-up question. He didn't ask for clarification. He simply turned away and stared out the window. He did not speak again until the car pulled into the driveway. Grace opened the door to get out, but there was some kind of locking system on it, like the safety lock she'd used when the kids were small, and she could not open it from the inside. The burly driver came around and took hold of the door handle. She wanted to ask Carl Vespa what he planned on doing now, if he'd indeed leave them alone, but his body language was wrong.

Calling him in the first place had been a mistake. Telling him she wanted him out of this may have compounded it.

"I'll keep my men on until you pick up the children from school," he said, still not facing her. "Then you'll be on your own."

"Thank you."

"Grace?"

She looked back at him.

"You should never lie to me," he said.

His voice was ice. Grace swallowed hard. She wanted to argue, to tell him that she hadn't, but she worried that it would sound too defensive  -  protesting too much. So she simply nodded.

There were no good-byes. Grace headed up the walk alone. Her step teetered from something more than the limp.

What had she done?

She wondered about her next step. Her sister-in-law had said it best: Protect the children. If Grace were in Jack's shoes, if she had gone missing for whatever reason, that would be what she'd want. Forget me, she'd tell him. Keep the children safe.

So now, like it or not, Grace was out of the rescue business. Jack was on his own.

She'd pack now. She'd wait until three o'clock, until school was let out, and then she'd pick up the children and drive to Pennsylvania. She'd find a hotel where you didn't need a credit card. Or a B amp;B. Or a rooming house. Whatever. She'd call the police, maybe that Perlmutter even. She'd tell him what was going on. But first she needed her children. Once they were safe, once she had them in her car and was on the road, she'd be okay.

She reached her front door. There was a package on the step. She bent down and picked it up. The box had a New Hampshire Post logo on it. The return address read: Bobby Dodd, Sunrise Assisted Living.

It was Bob Dodd's files.

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