Chapter 5

I stared unblinking at the computer screen.

I couldn't move. My senses were past overload. Every part of me was numb.

It couldn't be. I knew that. Elizabeth hadn't fallen off a yacht and assumed drowned, her body never found. She hadn't been burned beyond recognition or any of that. Her corpse had been found in a ditch off Route 80. Battered, perhaps, but she had been positively IDed.

Not by you...

Maybe not, but by two close family members: her father and her uncle. In fact, Hoyt Parker, my father-in-law, was the one who told me that Elizabeth was dead. He came to my hospital room with his brother Ken not long after I regained consciousness. Hoyt and Ken were large and grizzled and stone-faced, one a New York City cop, the other a federal agent, both war veterans with beefy flesh and large, undefined muscles. They took off their hats and tried to tell me with the semi distant empathy of professionals, but I didn't buy it and they weren't selling too hard.

So what had I just seen?

On the monitor, flows of pedestrians still spurted by. I stared some more, willing her to come back. No dice. Where was this anyway? A bustling city, that was all I could tell. It could be New York for all I knew.

So look for clues, idiot.

I tried to concentrate. Clothes. Okay, let's check out the clothes. Most people were wearing coats or jackets. Conclusion: We were probably somewhere up north or, at least, someplace not particularly warm today. Great. I could rule out Miami.

What else? I stared at the people. The hairstyles? That wouldn't help, I could see the corner of a brick building. I looked for identifiable characteristics, something to separate the building from the norm. Nothing. I searched the screen for something, anything, out of the ordinary.

Shopping bags.

A few people were carrying shopping bags. I tried to read them, but everyone was moving too fast. I willed them to slow down. They didn't. I kept looking, keeping my gaze at knee level. The camera angle wasn't helping here. I put my face so close to the screen, I could feel the heat.

Capital R.

That was the first letter on one bag. The rest was too squiggly to make out. It looked written in some fancy script. Okay, what else? What other clues could I-?

The camera feed went white.

Damn. I hit the reload button. The error screen returned. I went back to the original email and clicked the hyperlink Another error.

My feed was gone.

I looked at the blank screen, and the truth struck me anew: I'd just seen Elizabeth.

I could try to rationalize it away. But this wasn't a dream. I'd had dreams where Elizabeth was alive. Too many of them. In most, I'd just accept her return from the grave, too thankful to question or doubt. I remember one dream in particular where we were together  -  I don't remember what we were doing or even where we were  -  and right then, in mid-laugh, I realized with breath-crushing certainty that I was dreaming, that very soon I'd wake up alone. I remember the dream  -  me reaching out at that moment and grabbing hold of her, pulling her in close, trying desperately to drag Elizabeth back with me.

I knew dreams. What I had seen on the computer wasn't one.

It wasn't a ghost either. Not that I believe in them, but when in doubt, you might as well keep an open mind. But ghosts don't age. The Elizabeth on the computer had. Not a lot, but it had been eight years. Ghosts don't cut their hair either. I thought of that long braid hanging down her back in the moonlight. I thought about the fashionably short cut I'd just seen. And I thought about those eyes, those eyes that I had looked into since I was seven years old.

It was Elizabeth. She was still alive.

I felt the tears come again, but this time I fought them back. Funny thing. I'd always cried easily, but after mourning for Elizabeth it was as though I couldn't cry anymore. Not that I had cried myself out or used up all my tears or any of that nonsense. Or that I'd grown numb from grief, though that might have been a tiny part of it. What I think happened was that I instinctively snapped into a defensive stance. When Elizabeth died, I threw open the doors and let the pain in. I let myself feel it all. And it hurt. It hurt so damn much that now something primordial wouldn't let it happen again.

I don't know how long I sat there. Half an hour maybe. I tried to slow my breath and calm my mind. I wanted to be rational. I needed to be rational. I was supposed to be at Elizabeth 's parents' house already, but I couldn't imagine facing them right now.

Then I remembered something else.

Sarah Goodhart.

Sheriff Lowell had asked if I knew anything about the name. I did.

Elizabeth and I used to play a childhood game. Perhaps you did too. You take your middle name and make it your first, then you take your childhood street name and make it your last. For example, my full name is David Craig Beck and I grew up on Darby Road. I would thus be Craig Darby. And Elizabeth would be...

Sarah Goodhart.

What the hell was going on here?

I picked up the phone. First I called Elizabeth 's parents. They still lived in that house on Goodhart Road. Her mother answered. I told her I was running late. People accept that from doctors. One of the fringe benefits of the job.

When I called Sheriff Lowell, his voice mail picked up. I told him to beep me when he had a chance. I don't have a cell phone. I realize that puts me in the minority, but my beeper leashes me to the outside world too much as it is.

I sat back, but Homer Simpson knocked me out of my trance with another "The mail is here!" I shot forward and gripped the mouse. The sender's address was unfamiliar, but the subject read Street Cam. Another thud in my chest.

I clicked the little icon and the email came up:

Tomorrow same time plus two hours at A message for you will be left under:

Your user name: Bat Street

Password: Teenage

Beneath this, clinging to the bottom of the screen, just five more words:

They're watching. Tell no one.

Larry Gandle, the man with the bad comb-over, watched Eric Wu quietly handle the cleanup.

Wu, a twenty-six-year-old Korean with a staggering assortment of body pierces and tattoos, was the deadliest man Gandle had ever known. Wu was built like a small army tank, but that alone didn't mean much. Gandle knew plenty of people who had the physique. Too often, show muscles meant useless muscles.

That was not the case with Eric Wu.

The rock brawn was nice, but the real secret of Wu's deadly strength lay in the man's callused hands  -  two cement blocks with steel-talon fingers. He spent hours on them, punching cinder blocks, exposing them to extreme heat and cold, performing sets of one-finger push-ups. When Wu put those fingers to use, the devastation to bone and tissue was unimaginable.

Dark rumors swirled around men like Wu, most of which were crap, but Larry Gandle had seen him kill a man by digging his fingers into the soft spots of the face and abdomen. He had seen Wu grab a man by both ears and rip them off in a smooth pluck. He had seen him kill four times in four very different ways, never using a weapon.

None of the deaths had been quick.

Nobody knew exactly where Wu came from, but the most accepted tale had something to do with a brutal childhood in North Korea. Gandle had never asked. There were some night paths the mind was better off not traversing; the dark side of Eric Wu  -  right, like there might be a light side  -  was one of them.

When Wu finished wrapping up the protoplasm that had been Vic Letty in the drop cloth, he looked up at Gandle with those eyes of his. Dead eyes, Larry Gandle thought. The eyes of a child in a war newsreel.

Wu had not bothered taking off his headset. His personal stereo did not blare hip hop or rap or even rock 'n' roll. He listened pretty much nonstop to those soothing-sounds CDs you might find at Sharper Image, the ones with names like Ocean Breeze and Running Brook.

"Should I take him to Benny's?" Wu asked. His voice had a slow, odd cadence to it, like a character from a Peanuts cartoon.

Larry Gandle nodded. Benny ran a crematorium. Ashes to ashes. Or, in this case, scum to ashes. "And get rid of this."

Gandle handed Eric Wu the twenty-two. The weapon looked puny and useless in Wu's giant hand. Wu frowned at it, probably disappointed that Gandle had chosen it over Wu's own unique talents, and jammed it in his pocket. With a twenty-two, there were rarely exit wounds. That meant less evidence. The blood had been contained by a vinyl drop cloth. No muss, no fuss.

"Later," Wu said. He picked up the body with one hand as though it were a briefcase and carried it out.

Larry Gandle nodded a good-bye. He took little joy from Vic Letty's pain  -  but then again, he took little discomfort either. It was a simple matter really. Gandle had to know for absolute certain that Letty was working alone and that he hadn't left evidence around for someone else to find. That meant pushing the man past the breaking point. There was no other way.

In the end, it came down to a clear choice  -  the Scope family or Vic Letty. The Scopes were good people. They had never done a damn thing to Vic Letty. Vic Letty, on the other hand, had gone out of his way to try to hurt the Scope family. Only one of them could get off unscathed  -  the innocent, well-meaning victim or the parasite who was trying to feed off another's misery. No choice when you thought about it.

Gandle's cell phone vibrated. He picked it up and said, "Yes."

"They identified the bodies at the lake."


"It's them. Jesus Christ, it's Bob and Mel."

Gandle closed his eyes.

"What does it mean, Larry?"

"I don't know."

"So what are we going to do?"

Larry Gandle knew that there was no choice. He'd have to speak with Griffin Scope. It would unearth unpleasant memories. Eight years. After eight years. Gandle shook his head. It would break the old man's heart all over again.

"I'll handle it."