Just One Look

Chapter 15


Wu spotted the empty hide-a-key.
The rock was on the path by the back door, turned over like a dying crab. The cover had been slid open. Wu could see the key was gone. He remembered the first time he had approached a house that had been violated. He was six years old. The hut-it was one room, no plumbing-had been his own. The Kim government had not bothered with the niceties of keys. They had knocked the door down and dragged his mother away. Wu found her two days later. They had hung her from a tree. No one was allowed to cut her down, under penalty of death. A day later the birds found her.
His mother had been wrongly accused of being a traitor to the Great Leader, but guilt or innocence was irrelevant. An example was made of her anyway. This is what happens to those who defy us. Check that: This is what happens to anyone we think may be defying us.
No one took in the six-year-old Eric. No orphanage picked him up. He did not become a ward of the state. Eric Wu ran away. He slept in the woods. He ate out of garbage cans. He survived. At thirteen, he was arrested for stealing and thrown in jail. The chief guard, a man more crooked than anyone he housed, saw Wu's potential. And so it began.
Wu stared down at the empty hide-a-key.
Someone was in the house.
He glanced at the house next door. His best guess would be that it was the woman who lived there. She liked to watch out the window. She would know where Freddy Sykes hid a key.
He considered his options. There were two.
One, he could simply leave.
Jack Lawson was in the trunk. Wu had a vehicle. He could take off, steal another car, begin his journey, set up residence elsewhere.
Problem: Wu's fingerprints were inside the house, along with the severely wounded, perhaps dead, Freddy Sykes. The lingerie-clad woman, if it was the woman, would be able to identify him too. Wu was fresh out of prison and on parole. The DA had suspected him of terrible crimes, but they could not prove them. So they cut a deal in exchange for his testimony. Wu had spent time in a maximum security penitentiary in Walden, New York. Next to what he had experienced in his homeland, the prison might as well have been a Four Seasons.
But that didn't mean he wanted to go back.
No, option one was no good. So that left option two.
Wu silently opened the door and slid inside.
Back in the limousine, Grace and Carl Vespa fell into silence.
Grace kept flashing back to the last time she'd seen Jimmy X's face-fifteen years ago in her hospital. He'd been forced to visit, a photo op arranged by his promoter, but he couldn't even look at her, never mind speak. He just stood by her bed, flowers clutched in his hand, his head down like a little boy's waiting for the teacher to scold him. She never said a word. Eventually he handed her the flowers and walked out.
Jimmy X quit the business and ran off. Rumor had it he moved to a private island near Fiji. Now, fifteen years later, here he was in New Jersey, playing drums for a Christian rock band.
When they pulled onto her street, Vespa said, "It hasn't gotten any better, you know."
Grace looked out the window. "Jimmy X didn't fire the gun."
"I know that."
"So what do you want from him?"
"He's never said he's sorry."
"And that would be enough?"
He thought about that, and then said, "There was a boy who survived. David Reed. You remember him?"
"He was standing next to Ryan. They were body to body. But when the crush began, this Reed kid somehow got lifted up on someone's shoulder. He got on the stage."
"I know."
"You remember what his parents said?"
She did but she said nothing.
"Jesus lifted up their son. It was God's will." Vespa's voice had not changed, but Grace could feel the hidden rage like a blast furnace. "You see, Mr. and Mrs. Reed prayed and God responded. It was a miracle, they said. God looked out for their son, that's what they kept repeating. As if God didn't have the desire or inclination to save mine."
They fell into silence. Grace wanted to tell him that many good people died that day, many people with good parents who prayed, that God does not discriminate. But Vespa knew all that. It would not comfort.
By the time they pulled into the driveway, night was falling. Grace could see the silhouettes of Cora and the kids in the kitchen window. Vespa said, "I want to help you find your husband."
"I'm not even sure what you can do."
"You'd be surprised," he said. "You have my number. No matter what you need, call me. No matter what time it is, I don't care. I'll be there."
Cram opened the door. Vespa walked her to the door.
"I'll be in touch," he said.
"Thank you."
"I'm also going to assign Cram here to watch your house."
She looked at Cram. Cram sort of smiled back.
"That won't be necessary."
"Humor me," he said.
"No, really, I don't want that. Please."
Vespa thought about it. "If you change your mind...?"
"I'll let you know."
He turned to leave then. She watched him walk back to the car and wondered about the wisdom of making deals with the devil. Cram opened the door. The limo seemed to swallow Vespa whole. Cram nodded at her. Grace did not move. She considered herself pretty good at reading people, but Carl Vespa had changed her view. She never saw or even sensed a hint of evil in him. Yet she knew it was there.
Evil-real evil-was like that.
Cora put on boiling water for the Ronzoni penne. She threw a jar of Prego into a saucepan and then leaned close to Grace's ear.
"I'm going to check the e-mail to see if we got any replies," Cora whispered.
Grace nodded. She was helping Emma do her homework and trying like hell to care. Her daughter was dressed in a Jason Kidd Nets basketball jersey. She called herself Bob. She wanted to be a jock. Grace didn't know how she felt about it, but she guessed it was better than buying Teen Beat magazine and lusting after nonthreatening boy bands.
Mrs. Lamb, Emma's young-but-quickly-aging teacher, had the kids working on the multiplication tables. They were doing the sixes. Grace tested Emma. At six times seven, Emma paused for a long time.
"You should know it by heart," Grace said.
"Why? I can figure it out."
"That's not the point. You learn it by heart so you can build off that when you start multiplying numbers with multiple digits."
"Mrs. Lamb didn't say to memorize them."
"You should."
"But Mrs. Lamb-"
"Six times seven."
And so it went.
Max had to find an item to put in the "Secret Box." You put something in the box-in this case, a hockey puck-and you made up three clues so that your fellow kindergartners could guess what it was. Clue one: The item is black. Clue two: It's used in a sport. Clue three: Ice. Fair enough.
Cora came back from the computer shaking her head. Nothing yet. She grabbed a bottle of Lindemans, a decent-yet-cheap Chardonnay from Australia, and popped the cork. Grace put the kids to bed.
"Where's Daddy?" Max asked.
Emma echoed the sentiment. "I wrote the hockey verse for my poem."
Grace said something vague about Jack having to work. The kids looked wary.
"I'd love to hear the poem," Grace said.
Grudgingly Emma produced her journal.
"Hockey stick, hockey stick,
Do you love to score?
When you are used to shoot,
Do you feel like you want more?"
Emma looked up. Grace said, "Wow" and clapped, but she was simply not as good at the enthusiasm game as Jack. She kissed them both good night and headed back downstairs. The wine bottle was open. She and Cora began to drink. She missed Jack. He'd been gone less than twenty-four hours-he'd been gone longer on business trips plenty of times-and yet the house seemed to sag somehow. Something felt lost, irretrievably so. The missing of him had already become a physical ache.
Grace and Cora drank some more. Grace thought about her children. She thought about a life, a whole life, without Jack. We do anything to shield our children from pain. Losing Jack would, no doubt, crush Grace. But that was okay. She could take it. Her pain, however, would be nothing next to what it would do to the two children upstairs who, she knew, lay awake, sensing something was amiss.
Grace looked at the photographs lining the walls.
Cora moved next to her. "He's a good man."
"You okay?"
"Too much wine," Grace said.
"Not enough, you ask me. Where did Mr. Mobster take you?"
"To see a Christian rock band."
"Quite the first date."
"It's a long story."
"I'm all ears."
But Grace shook her head. She didn't want to think about Jimmy X. An idea came to her. She mulled it over, let it settle.
"What?" Cora said.
"Maybe Jack made more than one call."
"You mean, besides the call to his sister?"
Cora nodded. "Have you set up an online account?"
"We have AOL."
"No, I mean for your phone bill."
"Not yet."
"No time like the present then." Cora stood up. There was a teeter to her step now. The wine was making them both warm. "Who do you use for long distance?"
They were back by Jack's computer. Cora sat at the desk, cracked her knuckles, and went to work. She brought up Cascade's Web site. Grace gave her the necessary information-address, social security number, credit card. They came up with a password. Cascade sent an e-mail to Jack's account verifying that he'd just signed up for online billing.
"We're in," Cora said.
"I don't get it."
"An online billing account. I just set it up. You can now view and pay your phone bill over the Internet."
Grace looked over Cora's shoulder. "That's last month's bill."
"But it won't have the calls from last night."
"Hmm. Let me e-mail a request. We can also call Cascade and ask."
"They're not open twenty-four-seven. Part of the discount service." Grace leaned closer to the monitor. "Let me see if he called his sister before last night."
Her eyes skimmed down the list. Nothing. No unfamiliar numbers either. She no longer felt weird doing this, spying on the husband she loved and trusted, which of course felt weird in and of itself.
"Who pays the bills?" Cora asked.
"Jack does most of them."
"The phone bill comes to the house?"
"You look at it?"
Cora nodded. "Jack has a cell phone, right?"
"What about that bill?"
"What about it?"
"Do you look at it?"
"No, it's his."
Cora smiled.
"When my ex was cheating on me, he used the cell because I never looked at those bills."
"Jack isn't cheating."
"But he may be keeping secrets, right?"
"Could be," Grace allowed. "Okay, yeah, probably."
"So where would he keep the phone bills for his mobile?"
Grace checked the file cabinet. He saved the bills from Cascade. She checked under the Vs for Verizon Wireless. Nothing. "They're not here."
Cora rubbed her hands together. "Ooo, suspicious." She was into it now. "So let's do that voodoo that they do that we do."
"And what exactly do we do?"
"Let's say Jack is keeping something from you. He would probably destroy the bills the minute he gets them, right?"
Grace shook her head. "This is so bizarre."
"But am I right?"
"Yeah, okay, if Jack is keeping secrets from me-"
"Everyone has secrets, Grace. C'mon, you know that. Are you telling me that this all comes as a total surprise?"
This truth would normally have made Grace pause, but there was no time for such indulgences. "Okay, so let's say Jack did destroy the cell phone bills-how are we going to get them?"
"Same way I just did. We set up another online account, this time under Verizon Wireless." Cora started typing.
"Can I ask you something?"
"How do you know how to do all this?"
"Practical experience." She stopped typing and looked back at Grace. "How do you think I found out about Adolf and Eva?"
"You spied on them?"
"Yup. I bought a book called Spying for Dodos or something like that. It's all in there. I wanted to make sure I had all the facts before I confronted his sorry ass."
"What did he say when you showed it to him?"
"That he was sorry. That he'd never do it again. That he'd give up Ivana of the Implant and never see her again."
Grace watched her friend type. "You really love him, don't you?"
"More than life itself." Still typing, Cora added, "How about opening another bottle of wine?"
"Only if we're not driving tonight."
"You want me to sleep here?"
"We shouldn't drive, Cora."
"Okay, deal."
Grace stood and felt her head reel from the drink. She headed back into the kitchen. Cora often drank too much, but tonight Grace was happy to join her. She opened another bottle of the Lindemans. The wine was warm so she put an ice cube in both. Gauche, but they liked it cold.
When Grace got back into the office, the printer was whirring. She handed Cora a glass and sat. Grace stared at the wine. She started shaking her head.
"What?" Cora said.
"I finally met Jack's sister."
"I mean, think about it. Sandra Koval. I didn't even know her name before now."
"You never asked Jack about her?"
"Not really."
"Why not?"
Grace took a sip. "I can't really explain it."
She looked up and wondered how to put it. "I thought it was healthy. You know, keeping parts of yourself private. I was running away from something. He never pushed me on it."
"So you never pushed him either?"
"It was more than that."
Grace thought about it. "I never bought into that 'we have no secrets' stuff. Jack had a wealthy family and he wanted no part of it. There had been a falling out. I knew that much."
"Wealthy from what?"
"What do you mean?"
"What business are they in?"
"Some kind of securities firm. Jack's grandfather started it. They have trust funds and options and voting shares, stuff like that. Nothing Onassis-like, but enough, I guess. Jack won't have anything to do with it. He won't vote. He won't touch the money. He set it up so the trust skips a generation."
"So Emma and Max will get it?"
"How do you feel about that?"
Grace shrugged. "You know what I'm realizing?"
"I'm all ears."
"The reason I never pushed Jack? It had nothing to do with respecting privacy."
"Then what?"
"I loved him. I loved him more than any man I'd ever met..."
"I feel a 'but' coming here."
Grace felt the tears press against her eyes. "But it all felt so fragile. Does that make sense? When I was with him-this is going to sound so stupid-but when I was with Jack, it was the first time I was happy since, I don't know, since my father died."
"You've had a lot of pain in your life," Cora said.
Grace did not reply.
"You were scared it would go away. You didn't want to open yourself up to more."
"So I chose ignorance?"
"Hey, ignorance is supposed to be bliss, right?"
"You buy that?"
Cora shrugged. "If I never checked up on Adolf, he probably would have had his fling and gotten over it. Maybe I'd be living with the man I love."
"You could still take him back."
"Why not?"
Cora thought about it. "I need the ignorance, I guess." She picked up her glass and took a long sip.
The printer finished whirring. Grace picked up the sheets and started examining them. Most of the phone numbers she knew. Point of fact, she knew almost all of them.
But one immediately jumped out at her.
"Where's six-oh-three area code?" Grace asked.
"Beats me. Which call?"
Grace showed her on the monitor. Cora moved the cursor over it.
"What are you doing?" Grace asked.
"You click the number, they tell you who called."
"For real?"
"Man, what century do you live in? They have talkies now."
"So all you have to do is click the link?"
"And it'll tell all. Unless the number is unlisted."
Cora clicked the left mouse button. A box appeared saying:
"There you go. Unlisted."
Grace checked her watch. "It's only nine-thirty," she said. "Not too late to call."
"Under the missing-husband rule, no, not too late at all."
Grace picked up the phone and inputted the number. A piercing feedback, not unlike the one at the Rapture concert, slapped her eardrum. Then: "The number you have called"-the robotic voice stated the number-"has been disconnected. No further information is available."
Grace frowned.
"When was the last time Jack called it?"
Cora checked. "Three weeks ago. He talked for eighteen minutes."
"It's disconnected."
"Hmm, six-oh-three area code," Cora said, moving to another Web site. She typed in "603 area code" and hit the enter button. The answer came right up. "It's in New Hampshire. Hold on, let's Google it."
"Google what? New Hampshire?"
"The phone number."
"What will that do?"
"Your number is unlisted, right?"
"Hold on, let me show you something. This doesn't work every time, but watch." Cora typed Grace's phone number into the search engine. "What it will do is search the entire Web for those numbers in a row. Not just phone directories. That won't do it because, like you said, your number is unlisted. But..."
Cora hit return. There was one search hit. The site was for an art prize offered at Brandeis University, her alma mater. Cora clicked the link. Grace's name and number came up. "You were judging some painting award?"
Grace nodded. "They were giving out an art scholarship."
"Yep, there you are. Your name, address, and phone number with other judges. You must have given it to them."
Grace shook her head.
"Throw away your eight-tracks and welcome to the Information Age," Cora said. "And now that I know your name, I can do a million different searches. Your gallery Web page will come up. Where you went to college. Whatever. Now let's try with this six-oh-three number..."
Cora's fingers flew again. She hit return. "Hold on. We got something." She squinted at the screen. "Bob Dodd."
"Yes. Not Robert. Bob." Cora looked back at Grace. "Is the name familiar?"
"The address is a PO box in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. You ever been?"
"How about Jack?"
"I don't think so. I mean, he went to college in Vermont, so he might have visited New Hampshire, but we've never been there together."
There was a sound from upstairs. Max cried out in his sleep.
"Go," Cora said. "I'll see what I can dig up on our friend Mr. Dodd."
As Grace headed up toward her son's bedroom, another pang struck deep in her chest: Jack was the house's night sentinel. He handled nightmares and nocturnal requests for water. He was the one who held the kid's foreheads at 3 A.M. when they woke up to, er, throw up. During the day, Grace took care of the sniffles, the taking of the temperatures, the heating of chicken soup, the forcing down of Robitussin. The night shift was Jack's.
Max was sobbing when she reached his room. His cries were soft now, more a whimper, and somehow that was more pitiful than the loudest of screams. Grace wrapped her arms around him. His little body was shaking. She rocked back and forth and gently shushed him. She whispered that Mommy was here, that everything was okay, that he was safe.
It took Max a while to settle. Grace brought him to the bathroom. Even though Max was barely six, he peed like a man-that is to say, he missed the bowl entirely. He swayed, falling back asleep as he stood. When he finished, she helped him pull up his Finding Nemo pajamas. She tucked him back in and asked if he wanted to tell her about his dream. He shook his head and fell back asleep.
Grace watched his little chest rise and fall. He looked very much like his father.
After a while she headed back downstairs. There was no sound. Cora was no longer clacking the keyboard. Grace entered the office. The chair was empty. Cora stood in the corner. She gripped the wineglass.
"I know why Bob Dodd's phone was disconnected."
There was a tightness in Cora's voice, one Grace had never heard. She waited for her friend to continue, but she seemed to be shrinking into the corner.
"What happened?" Grace asked.
Cora downed a quick sip. "According to an article in the New Hampshire Post, Bob Dodd is dead. He was murdered two weeks ago."