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It doesn’t take much of Absalom’s brand of abuse to erode your sense of balance, your confidence, your trust in those around you. When your enemies are faceless, they are everywhere. Paranoia becomes reality. At any given moment, even now, I can log on and find a firehose of hatred directed at me, and at my kids. I can watch it happen in real time. It’s a self-perpetuating engine of outrage.

So I can sympathize with the hopelessness Ballantine Rivard’s son felt. I had days where ending things felt like the only way out of the trap. I’d survived, just barely. He hadn’t. It isn’t fair, or right, but it’s dreadfully human, the way we tear each other apart.

“I’m sorry for what he went through,” I tell Rivard. I let a beat go by before I come back to the topic. “How did he kill himself?”

Rivard’s eyes go distant and blind. “He jumped from this tower. He had an apartment here. The glass was thick; he had to make a dedicated effort to break it. I believe he used a marble bust. Then he jumped. Twenty-eight stories.”

I give that a respectful moment of silence before I continue, “And, after he died . . . you hired this investigator to track down the people who went after him?”

“No. I hired Mr. Sauer to investigate who was driving him to the brink of madness well before that. But Mr. Sauer disappeared just prior to my son’s death.” His hands tap restlessly on the armrests of his chair. Grip them tightly, until I can almost hear his knuckles crack.

Now we are getting to it. “Did he give you regular reports? Information?”

“Some,” he says. “Not as much as I’d hoped. He was due back to me with more details on the day he vanished. And now it’s time for you to explain to me how exactly you located my missing man.”

We do. We leave Lustig out of it, but we tell him about the video we recovered—though not where we found it. Mike Lustig has the thumb drive, but Sam has taken the precaution of uploading it to the cloud, and he offers to play it for Rivard. Rivard provides a laptop, and Sam gives him the link. I don’t watch. I try not to listen, but I hear when Sauer gives up the name Rivard.

Rivard stops the video. We are all silent for a moment, and then Sam says, “Do you recognize anyone? Any voices?”

“No,” Rivard says. He sounds subdued and thoughtful. “And you found his body there?”

“Yes.”

“Did you find anything else? Any clues?”

“Just his wallet. The police will have it all now.” I consider mentioning the FBI, but I decide not to.

“Would you be willing to give us what you have on Absalom?” Sam asks. My impulse would have been to demand it, but Sam’s right. Rivard’s sense of entitlement responds better to what he considers politeness. Whatever works. My ego isn’t at stake. “Mr. Rivard, I know you can hire a hundred investigators to go at this, but we’re here. We’re invested. And we’re going forward with or without you, so you might as well join with us, don’t you think?”

“You’re proposing an alliance.” He glances at me, then back to Sam. “You realize that I’m a very public figure. I would have to ask you to withhold any mention of my involvement. I can, however, offer you resources to help you along. You’ll keep me informed of what you discover?”

“Yes,” Sam says. “At every step.” He sounds completely trustworthy. But then, he lied to me successfully, too, for quite a while. He’s good at deception when he needs to be.

Rivard seems to accept that at face value. “All right. He gave me a few names. Most of who Absalom seems to recruit are just kids, fifteen and sixteen years old. Sociopaths, yes, but too young to be held criminally responsible, and followers, definitely not leaders. Of the adults Mr. Sauer was able to track down, two were already dead when he located their identities.” Rivard takes in a raw breath. “He’d called that information in the morning he vanished, but I was hoping for more. He said he’d be back in touch. He wasn’t.”

I try to keep my voice quieter. Softer. More feminine, which is what Rivard seems to favor. “Will you give us the last name that Mr. Sauer reported to you?” I ask it carefully. Quietly. I don’t look at him directly, for fear of raising his hackles again.

Rivard considers. He does it a long time. There’s a knock—a discreet one—at the door, and it opens a small amount for the man in the blue suit to lean in. “Sir,” he says. “It’s almost time for treatments.”

“So it is,” Rivard says. “A moment, Mr. Chivari.”

Chivari waits inside by the door. Rivard works in silence for a moment on the laptop. As he punches keys, he says, almost absently, “The last name I was given by Mr. Sauer is Carl David Suffolk. He lives in Wichita, Kansas. Your old home, I believe, Ms. Proctor. I leave locating him up to you. Ah. Here. I believe that there is one last thing that you should see.”

He faces the computer out toward us. I glance at his face, then down at the screen, and Sam leans forward. I’m expecting to see something about Carl David Suffolk, but he’s sucker punching me, and I don’t even see it coming.

I recognize the house in the video. It’s . . . it’s mine. It takes me just an instant before that creeping sense of familiarity clicks in, and I feel like I’m drifting out of my body. For a second I think, Someone must have fixed our garage, but that’s stupid; the garage was never fixed after the wreck that broke open that brick wall and poured out my husband’s secrets. The house was torn down instead. There’s a park there now. I’ve been to it.

But this video is of our old house, before. Before the world knew who we were, what Melvin was.

I don’t know what I’m looking at, and I quickly glance up at Rivard’s face.

“Wait for it,” he says.

The video’s a little rough, but perfectly clear. It’s night, and the security lights fixed around the roof of our house—Melvin’s insistence—are all dark just now. They were motion sensitive, I remember. There’s a streetlight right at the curb that casts an unrelenting glow over the side of the house, and the one next door, and I remember how much trouble I went to, to find blackout curtains that Melvin liked because he hated sleeping in a room that wasn’t dark, and . . .

I see an SUV come into the video frame. Its lights turn off, and it glides quietly into the driveway of our house.

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