Authors: James Patterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thriller
WHEN WE LANDED in Portland, two reps from the Cumber-land County Sheriff’s Office met us with cars at the airport. The reps were fairly cool and neutral about the whole thing. It was hard to gauge if we were a welcome resource or some kind of law enforcement interlopers to these people. That seemed to be the norm in the cop shows and movies I’d seen, but then again, I was on a pretty
steep learning curve these days. It was all about where those stories left off and reality picked up.
From the airfield, we drove to the Deering neighborhood, where the Sapporos lived. I rode with Keats, Adam Obaje, and a Detective Friebold, who briefed us on what they had so far.
There were no indications of a forced entry, or a struggle of any kind, at the Sapporos’ house, Friebold said. Other
than a single window left unlatched in the girl’s room, the whole place had been left undisturbed.
“We’re guessing Reese let this creep in but didn’t leave willingly. Might have been drugged,” Friebold told us. “If only
because her phone was left behind. You don’t see a lot of fifteen-year-olds doing that, you know?”
I’d been thinking the same thing. Especially not when it came to fifteen-year-olds
who were phone-oriented enough to fall into an app like this one.
Friebold went on. “As soon as that photo came in this morning, we reclassified the case from missing persons to an abduction,” he said. “But there’s been no word since. No demands. Nothing. Her poor folks are out of their minds.”
An Amber Alert had gone out, and police were already speaking with Reese’s friends, teachers, and
neighbors. They were also covering all major transportation hubs, but it was impossible to know how many hours’ head start the kidnapper might have had. I tried not to imagine it too much from Reese’s perspective, how freaked out and terrified she would have been. But at the same time, I tried not to push it away, either. I could feel myself sharpening my analytic skills, even if that lingering dread
in my gut was the same as ever.
“What are the chances she’s still alive?” I asked Keats. “Statistically speaking.”
“Statistically? Ten percent, maybe,” he said. “But there’s nothing typical about this.”
I wasn’t completely sure what Keats meant by that, but something told me to cut off the rookie questions at that point and just focus on the briefing we’d had.
When we reached the house, Keats
met with Mr. and Mrs. Sapporo while Candace put in a call to the family’s ISP to start tracking down whatever we could get on every device in that house. I shut myself up in Reese’s bedroom and got busy with her Samsung Galaxy phone. It had already been fingerprinted and left as it had been found, on the unmade bed.
Knowing what we did about the app, my instructions were
to work silently, avoiding
any possible eavesdropping through the phone. I sequestered it in a Faraday bag, cabled it to my laptop, and started running a copy right away.
Once that was going, I turned my attention to Reese Sapporo herself.
Besides the bed, everything about her room was crazy tidy. The only things on the white painted desk were a gooseneck lamp and a rose gold MacBook Air laptop. Her books were organized
by color, and the clothes in her closet looked like they’d never been worn.
A quick check on her social media showed me a heavyset, plain girl. She didn’t seem to have a ton of friends, and her postings tended to be on the geeky side. I saw several
Game of Thrones
references, and lots of generic memes with vaguely inspirational or funny little sayings.
Even the smallest person can change the
course of the future
Is it Friday yet?
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, that means nobody wanted it. Set it free again.
Not that there was anything wrong with all that. From what I could see, Reese was the same kind of girl I’d been at fifteen. Which is also to say, nothing like the other known targets: Gwen Petty, the pretty, popular one, and Nigella Wilbur, the aggressive
Something told me that Reese was drawn into these online conversations as much by loneliness and insecurity as Gwen had been by vanity and Nigella by raging hormones.
The question was, what did they have in common? Certainly they were all risk-takers, whether or not they knew it. Loading
that app onto their phones was like hanging a COME AND GET ME sign on the front door.
of those girls was dead. One was still alive. And one was missing.
But what did this guy plan on doing with Reese Sapporo?
Or even worse—had he already done it?
AS SOON AS I had a secure copy of Reese’s phone on my system, I used it to open the app and see what had been left behind.
The most recent item was the photo of Reese from that morning, bound up and wide-eyed with fear in the trunk of that anonymous car. I skipped over it as quickly as I could, but not before it had burned another little hole in my psyche. It was hard to think about
and even harder to look at.
After that, I found a long string of texts and conversation fragments going back almost five months. He’d taken his time with Reese. Something told me he’d had to. Even here, the only responses she offered to his long texts were nothing more than shy little bursts, heavy on the stickers, hashtags, and emoticons.
At least, that’s what we were allowed to see. There
was never any knowing what the app’s administrator was editing out—or adding in—for purposes of his own.
In any case, as I read through what was there, it was easy to see shades of the same guy from before. His sentences were full
and well punctuated. His language was mature for a teen, but not quite adult, either. And while I didn’t see the Cummings poem this time, there
one verse of old-fashioned
poetry. I had to google it to find out it was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy.”
The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?
He was wooing his target this time, as opposed to seducing her.
The character who came across, through this line of communication, seemed like a young and naive person, just like Reese herself, and much less overtly like some lothario trying to get into a girl’s pants. That’s the version I’d seen in his communication with Nigella Wilbur, and to an extent with Gwen Petty, too.
There were no selfies this time, either. No nude pics or anything overtly sexual
at all. Basically, he had turned himself into the kind of person Reese Sapporo would respond to. And he’d told her exactly what she wanted to hear, as she wandered further and further into his trap. I hated seeing these strings in retrospect, where it all seemed so clear, even if it hadn’t been to the victim at the time. But reading them over now felt a little like watching the crime play out through
soundproof glass, while Reese flew like a moth toward that flame.
He’d even called himself JonSnow2 on-screen. It was a
reference to the best-looking guy from
Game of Thrones,
who also happened to make regular appearances on Reese’s Instagram.
For that matter, it wasn’t hard to imagine my own fifteen-year-old self responding to some of this. The secret boyfriend. The kindness he showered on
her. The attention he paid. Even the little moments of self-deprecation. It all added up.
And it was all lies.
Let me tell you what I imagine when I think of you. I imagine a girl who has no idea how beautiful she is. I may not know what you look like, but I do know you’re beautiful. I hope that doesn’t make you uncomfortable. It’s just the truth.
I know you’re just saying that, but thanks
Would you ever want to meet in person? I’d like to be friends if that’s okay with
Totally want to be friends!
Let me think about the rest. I’m kinda shy …
Actually, the truth is I want to be more than that, but not if it scares you off … I’m not even sure if I should be honest about this stuff or just shut up …
You want to hear something embarrassing? Sometimes I pretend you’re my girlfriend. How lame is that? I can’t help it.
That’s not lame. It’s
I pretend the same thing sometimes
(And now I’m REALLY blushing …
The truth is, I’ve never had a real girlfriend. I don’t even have that many regular friends. I don’t know why. I just don’t really fit in at my school. It’s kind of depressing, to be honest.
I can relate
<3 <3 <3
I’m just going to say it. You’re fricking adorable.
No … you are
You really are. I mean it.
Guess who’s getting his license on Monday? That would be me!!!
If you ever want to meet, I can go anywhere you want now. McDonalds? Your school? Hell, I’ll meet you at the police station if that makes you feel safer … :-). Seriously, it doesn’t matter where, and it doesn’t have to be a “date” or anything. I just want to meet you. For real!
You are soooo sweet
Can I think about
I want to. I’m just shy (obviously …)
Don’t let me screw this up by coming on too hard, okay?
We can just keep talking if that’s what you want.
Def keep talking
I do have one request. If you’re going to dump me, don’t just disappear, okay? I’d hate if we stopped talking, but I’d hate it even more if you didn’t at least say goodbye.
I would never do that to you
I’m 100% serious
You don’t have to worry about that.
I’m not going anywhere.
You’ve done so much for me, way more than you know.
Thanks for listening.
Hey. Do you like surprises?
Depends. What kind?
I have a good one for you.
You’re going to have to be patient. But I promise it will be worth it.
I can wait
No I can’t
Tell me more
A FEW HOURS later, I spotted Keats out the window in the Sapporos’ backyard. He was just standing there by himself, staring into the woods behind the house. So I went outside to check on him.
“Billy?” I said. “Everything okay?”
“Just gathering my thoughts,” he said without turning around. “Problem is, I have too many of them.”
“I’m familiar with the feeling,” I said. I was trying
to keep it light, but I don’t know if he even heard me.
“The thing is, I can’t tell if we’re getting little glimpses of who we’re chasing here, or if it’s just a nonstop stream of fabricated bullshit,” he said.
“It’s the same thing with the texts,” I told him. “He can be anyone he wants online, and these girls are paying the price.”
Keats nodded silently, then kept going.
“I mean, are we in
the endgame here? Or is this all leading up to some kind of larger target?”
“What do you mean? What kind of target?” I asked. I was curious, but I could tell he needed to talk it out, too.
“Take your pick,” he said. “The way this app’s spreading, it could be anything. Utilities. Air traffic. Banking. There’s nothing that’s not networked anymore. And the longer this goes on, the harder it’s getting
not to blame myself.”
“For what?” I asked, but Billy just shrugged. I assumed he meant the murders, and now this abduction.
I’d seen him worked up before. I even saw tears in his eyes at Gwen Petty’s high school. But I’d never seen Keats question himself like this. His whole stance was tight, with arms crossed and shoulders hunched.
“Well, I know what my mom would say,” I told him.
almost amused at that, like he figured I was about to lay some kind of motherly folk wisdom on him. Which I basically was.
“She’d say you’re taking on too much. It’s like you’re climbing a mountain and all you can think about is the mountain itself.”
“As opposed to what?” he asked.
“As opposed to putting one foot in front of the other,” I said. It sounded lame even before I was done saying
it, and I wished I’d kept my mouth shut. But now that I’d started, I kept going.
I pointed back at the house and lowered my voice. “Maybe you can’t save this girl,” I said. “I don’t know. But I’m guessing there are two parents in there who need you to think you can. I’d start with that.”
Billy didn’t respond, other than to take a deep breath and let it out. His eyes were still on the woods,
like maybe the answers were out there somewhere.
Someone had just called from the house. We both turned and I saw Obaje standing in the back door, holding up a phone.
“We’ve got Audrey Gruss on the line?” he said, and Billy turned to go inside. A second later, he was gone.
I knew he’d pull through this, one way or another, but it was hard to watch him struggle. And my little
two-cent offering didn’t seem to be worth much more than just that.
Maybe I should have quoted Winston Churchill instead of my mother, I thought. Churchill was the one who said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Because that’s exactly what Billy needed to do. And really, there wasn’t any other choice.