Authors: Kathy Reichs
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“Maybe.” If he hadn’t fried his brain with booze. Fried himself with grief and self-loathing.
“Then we shall find him.”
Mama’s jaw tightened.
“I’m sorry. I just know you have other things on your mind. You need to focus on recovery. I don’t doubt you can find him.”
When she was fifty-eight and emerging from a particularly cavernous funk, I bought my mother her first computer, an iMac that cost much more than I could afford. I held little hope that she’d find the cyber world attractive, but I was desperate for something to occupy her attention. Something other than me.
I showed her how to use email, word processers, spreadsheets, the Internet. Explained about browsers and search engines. To my surprise, she was fascinated. Mama took class after class. Learned about iTunes, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Photoshop. Eventually, as was typical, her mastery of the new sport was way beyond mine.
I wouldn’t call my mother a hacker. She has no interest in the secrets of the DOD or NASA. Doesn’t collect credit card or ATM numbers. Nevertheless. When she’s on her game, there’s nothing she can’t tease from the World Wide Web.
“Do you still have his email?” Mama asked.
“I suppose I could find it. But all he said was—”
“I’ll be right back.”
Before I could object, she was up and into the house. Moments later, she returned with a Mac the size of a fashion magazine.
“You use Gmail, don’t you, darlin’?” Lifting the lid and tapping a sequence of keys.
She patted a spot to her right. When I shifted to her chaise, she placed the laptop on my knees. “Pull it up.”
I logged in to my service provider and entered an identifier I thought might work. Seconds later, Ryan’s email appeared on the screen. I opened it.
Doing well. Miss you. AR.
I passed the computer to Mama. She clicked on a tiny triangle to the right of the reply arrow. From a drop-down menu, she chose the command “Show Original.”
A block of data appeared. The font looked like something produced by the old mainframe I used as an undergrad.
Mama pointed to a line about halfway down. The header said “Received.” Embedded in the gibberish was a string of four numbers divided by periods. “Every email has an IP address. It does basically the same thing a street address does for snail mail. That’s our sweet baby there.”
She highlighted and copied the numbers to the clipboard. Then she logged out of Gmail and entered a site called ipTRACKERonline.com. “Now we do what’s called geolocation.”
After pasting the string of numbers into a box in the middle of the screen, she hit enter. In seconds, a Google Earth satellite image appeared. On it was a red circle with its root stuck into the ground.
Below the map was information organized into three categories: Provider info. Country info. Time info.
I skimmed the center column. Country. Region. City. Postal code. I looked at Mama. “It’s that easy?”
“It’s that easy.”
She closed the laptop, turned, and hugged me. Her arms felt frail inside their thick woolen sleeves. “Now, my sweet girl, you go find your Andrew Ryan.”
“If I do, I may not be able to visit on Thursday.”
“We can have turkey any ole time. You go.”
Before leaving River House, I detoured down a carpeted corridor accessed from one side of the dining room. Dr. Finch’s office door was cracked, allowing a partial view of her seated behind an ornately carved desk. A plaque shared the fact that her first name was Luna.
I knocked softly, then entered.
Dr. Finch looked up. A moment of surprise, then she gestured to one of two chairs opposite her.
As I sat, Dr. Finch leaned back and steepled her fingertips. She was short and round, but not too short and round. Her hair was curly, dyed brown, and blunt-cut just below her ears.
“Her spirits are up,” I said.
I smiled, and Dr. Finch smiled back.
“She thinks she is dying.”
A pause, then, “Your mother has cancer.”
My heart froze in my chest. “She just learned this?”
“She’s been seeing an oncologist for several months.”
“And I wasn’t informed?”
“We are not your mother’s primary physicians. We attend to her mental well-being.”
“Can the two be separated?”
“Upon arrival, your mother informed us of her condition and requested confidentiality. She is an adult. We must respect her wishes. Now she feels it is time we talk to you.”
“Tell me the rest.”
“The cancer is spreading.”
“Of course it is. That’s what cancer does. How is it being treated?” Luna Finch regarded me with eyes that answered my question.
, I thought.
No hair loss and wigs for Mama.
“Would chemo help?” I asked. “It might.”
I swallowed. “And if she continues to refuse?”
Again the eyes.
I looked down at my hands. My right thumb was red and swollen. Itchy. A mosquito, I diagnosed.
“Your mother has chosen to stay at Heatherhill Farm as long as she can.”
“And how long will that be?”
“Perhaps a good while.”
“Is the number we have on file for you still current? In case we need to reach you?”
“Yes.” I rose.
“I’m very sorry,” she said.
Outside, the mist had burned off. High above, a white vapor trail streaked a cloudless blue sky.
Mama couldn’t be dying.
Yet Luna Finch said it was so.
I DON’T SLEEP
well on planes. Believe me, I try.
It was midafternoon by the time I got back to Charlotte. Eight when I finished a prelim on Larabee’s car trunk case. Ten when I finally found and booked a flight and room.
After arranging for cat care with my neighbor, I packed a carry-on, took a shower, and fell into bed.
My mind kept churning, offering up outtakes, unedited, lacking chronology.
Childhood memories of my mother.
Happy times. Reading to Harry and me on the garden swing. Quoting Shakespeare, Milton, other long-dead strangers we didn’t understand. Driving the Buick on illicit après-bedtime ice cream sorties.
Sad times. Listening outside Mama’s bedroom door. Confused by the tears, the breaking glass. Terrified she’d come out. Terrified she wouldn’t.
Memories of Andrew Ryan. Happy times. Skiing at Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains. Celebrating successes at Hurley’s Irish pub. Laughing at our shared cockatiel Charlie’s bawdy quips.
Sad times. The day Ryan was shot. The plane crash that took the life of his partner. The night we ended our relationship.
Doubts about my upcoming excursion. Was it futile? Ryan’s email was almost a month old. Had he moved on?
No. Barrow had nailed it when he’d asked if I could think of a spot Ryan had mentioned. I remembered comments. Ryan loved the place. It was where he’d go to hide out. To drop out.
Doubts about my decision not to tell my daughter about Mama. No. That decision was sound. Katy was serving in Afghanistan. She had enough on her mind.
All night I tossed and turned, questions skittering up and down my neural pathways. Doubts. Uncertainties.
Certainties. Luna Finch. Rogue cells multiplying out of control.
The last time check occurred at 2:54. The alarm screamed at five.
The flight to Atlanta was short, the layover just a little over an hour. Not bad. But this leg was torture.
I tried reading.
Maybe Keith Richards’s problems could make mine seem small. No go.
I closed the book and my eyes.
Something brushed my arm. I raised my lids. My chin from my shoulder.
The passenger beside me was steadying the plastic cup holding the remains of my cranberry juice. He was tall, with faded red hair and eyes the color of smoked glass.
“We are about to land.” They were the first words he’d spoken since takeoff, four hours earlier.
“Sorry.” I took the cup and returned my tray to its upright position. My seat.
“You are on vacation?” the man asked in softly accented English.
What the hell. The guy had prevented a spill. “I’m trying to find someone.”
“Ah. My destination also.”
“I own property there.”
The man withdrew a card from his wallet and handed it to me. His name was Nils Vanderleer. He sold irrigation systems for a company headquartered in Atlanta. Or so his card claimed.
I managed a smile. I thought.
“Perhaps I could be of assistance?” Vanderleer asked.
“I’m good. Thanks.”
“Yes, you are.”
The plane banked and we both glanced toward the window. Vanderleer could see out. I could not.
Moments later, the wheels engaged. Vanderleer turned back to me. “Might I buy you dinner one evening?”
“I’m hoping to be in Samara only one night.”
“That’s a shame. Costa Rica is a magical place.”
The line at passport control took thirty minutes. I exited the terminal perspiring, headachey, and cranky as hell.
Vanderleer was on the sidewalk, frowning and pacing. I had no choice but to pass him. When he saw me, he put up his hands in a “What can you do?” gesture.
“I booked a car, but of course it has not arrived on time. The driver is now ten minutes out. If you don’t mind a short wait, I am happy to take you to Samara.”
“Thanks for the offer. My hotel has ordered a taxi.”
Three hours after wheels down, I finally passed under a white stone arch rising from a wall thick with some sort of flowering vine. A wooden sign announced my arrival at Villas Katerina.
The place looked as advertised online. Palm trees. Woven hammocks. Villas with yellow stucco walls, white trim, and red tile roofs circling an amoeba-shaped pool.
The woman at reception was small and bubbly and had a bad case of acne. She took my credit card, all smiles, then led me to a villa set apart from the others. Smaller. Overlooking a garden lush with tropical vegetation.
I entered, wheeled my bag to a carved wooden chair beside one window, opened the drapes, and looked out. Nothing but foliage.
I turned and surveyed my surroundings—buttery walls, orange trim, orange bedspread and drapes. Native art, crude, probably local. Tiny kitchenette. Tiled bath, jarringly blue coming off the carroty bedroom.
Suddenly, I felt exhausted. Kicking off my shoes, I stretched out on the bed to consider options. Nap? No way. The sooner I found Ryan, the sooner I could leave.
Where was I, exactly? Samara Beach. Playa Samara. On the Pacific coast of a peninsula curling down from the northwest corner of Costa Rica, not far from its border with Nicaragua.
The night before, I’d done some research. Costa Rica is a small country, just a hair over fifty thousand square kilometers. A country known for its biodiversity. For its rain forests, cloud forests, woodlands, and wetlands. A country with a quarter of its territory protected as national parks and refuges.
Somewhere in it was Andrew Ryan. I hoped.
The IP address had placed Ryan in Samara four weeks earlier. The town was small, less popular with tourists than the upmarket sands of Tamarindo and Flamingo. That would work in my favor.
I pulled out the map I’d downloaded and studied the small tangle of streets. Noted a church, a laundromat, a number of shops, hotels, bars, and restaurants. A couple of Internet cafés.
Ryan is many things. Witty, generous, a crack detective. When it comes to communication, he is a Luddite. Sure, he has a smartphone. And he knows how to use the tools available to cops. CODIS, AFIS, CPIC, the lot. But that’s it. When off duty, Ryan prefers to call. He never texts, rarely emails.
And he doesn’t own a laptop. Says he wants to keep his personal life personal.
I got to my feet, undressed, and went into the shower. After toweling off, I put on sandals, jeans, and a T-shirt. Then I popped two Sudafed, shouldered my purse, and headed out.
The acne-faced woman was sweeping dead blossoms from the stone decking surrounding the pool. On a whim, I crossed to her and spoke in Spanish. Flashed a picture of Ryan.
The woman’s name was Estella. She knew of no Canadian living in Samara. She remembered a foursome who visited briefly from Edmonton. Both men were short and bald. When I asked, she cheerfully provided directions.
The walk along the beach took only minutes. I passed a restaurant, a surf school, a police station the size of a soap dish.
Samara’s main drag was a jog in the highway cutting through town. I reached it by heading straight up from the water.
Two horses grazed a patch of grass at the first corner I reached. A few cars and motorcycles were parked on either side. Power lines crisscrossed the air above.
The nearest Internet café was jammed between a souvenir shop and a small grocery. Its front was stucco, done in the same lemon and tangerine theme as my room. Lettering on the window offered international calls, Internet service, computer and iPhone repair.
The interior, considerably more drab than the exterior, held a counter, a soda vending machine, and six computer stations. At one station a confused-looking young woman studied a Lonely Planet guidebook, backpack at her feet. I assumed the other services were offered through the door at the far end of the shop.
A kid manned the register, back against the wall, front legs of his stool raised off the floor. He was maybe sixteen, with pasty skin and ratty blond dreads gathered high on his head. The dreads bobbed as he talked into a cellphone.
The kid continued his conversation.
I cleared my throat.
The kid pointed to the computers but didn’t disconnect.
I placed a photo on the counter and slid it toward him.
The kid righted the stool and glanced at the image. Up at me. Something flickered in his eyes, was gone. “I’ll call you back.” East Coast accent, maybe New York. To me, “So?”