Authors: Kathy Reichs
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“Have you seen him?”
“What makes you think that?”
“He may have come here to use the Internet.”
“Yeah, lady. That’s what people do.”
“You’d notice him. He has sandy hair and stands over six feet tall.”
“In his moccasins?”
I hadn’t a clue what he meant by that.
“I’ll be damned, Natty Bumppo right here in Samara.”
Okay. The kid read James Fenimore Cooper. Maybe he wasn’t a total loss.
“It’s important that I find him.”
“What’s he done?”
“He’s a cop. His input is needed on an investigation.”
The kid glanced toward the door, the Lonely Planet girl. Then he leaned forward on his elbows and whispered, “Could be I’ve seen him.”
“I’m having a little trouble remembering.” His brows flicked up, dropped. “You catch my meaning?”
I did. I dug my wallet from my purse and teased free a twenty.
The kid’s hand shot forward. I held the bill out of his reach.
“Take the highway west from town. Beyond where the Arriba Pathway T’s in, past the Las Brisas del Pacifico, down on the beach. Got a blue awning. Watch for a road cuts inland on the left. There’s a guy named Blackbird rents out a couple of tree houses up there. Your guy’s in one of them.”
“He’s still here?”
“He’s still here.”
Our eyes locked for a moment, then I let him snatch the money.
As I hurried back down toward the water, my pulse was racing. Could it be this simple? Walk into one café and score?
Or had I been played? Was the kid now laughing on his cellphone, describing the dumb gringo he’d just scammed?
But he knew I’d come back if I’d been conned. Right. Come back and do what?
Again I considered options. Which seemed few. Hurry there now? Wait until later, when Ryan might be in bed? How much later? Sleep, then strike at sunrise?
My stomach growled.
That decided it. Dinner first, then I’d set off.
I unfolded and checked my TripAdvisor printouts. El Lagarto was just up the beach. A lot of people liked it. What’s not to like about a joint with a slow-dancing gator couple as its logo?
I located the entrance and followed a lantern-lit walkway to a very long bar. Beyond the bar, a man tended steaks, fish, and plantains on a huge grill. The smell set my stomach whining again.
A woman wearing an embroidered cotton top seated me in an open area filled with tables and chairs that looked made of fossilized wood. Already half were occupied. Overhead, lanterns and colored lights twinkled softly. At ground level, candles flickered inside dozens of glass hurricane chimneys. In the gathering dusk, across the sand, the ocean boomed softly.
I ordered the seafood platter. Ate it. Felt sluggish as blood diverted to my gut.
I was on my second coffee, idly scanning my fellow diners, when my brain snapped back to attention.
Across the restaurant, a man stood talking to the bartender, his back to me. He wore a black T-shirt with a neon-green surf logo, faded denim shorts, and boat shoes. The hair was blonder and shaggier than the last time I’d seen it. But I knew the jawline, the shoulders, the long ropy limbs.
As I stared, heart pounding, the man flicked a quick one-finger wave at the bartender, turned, and walked out.
I dug money from my purse. Too much. I didn’t care.
on the table, I bolted for the door.
IN THE ATMOSPHERIC
but ineffective lantern light, I saw a neon-green surfboard near the end of the walkway. It disappeared as its wearer turned right.
Ryan was ten yards ahead when I hit the beach road. He wasn’t walking fast, yet I had to quicken my pace to keep up.
After going north a few blocks, he headed west along the highway. That fit with the dreadlocked kid’s account.
The tourists thinned as we moved farther from the center of town. With fewer rival noises, the ocean sounded louder. The sky, now fully black, was starting to show points of twinkling white light.
Fifteen minutes out, Ryan stopped abruptly. I froze, certain he’d seen me. Uncertain how my intrusion into his new life would be received.
Ryan’s shoulders rounded and his hands rose. A match flared. A tiny orange dot lit his face briefly. Then he straightened and turned left.
I let the distance between us increase, then I followed.
The road was narrow and paved only with gravel. Vegetation packed both sides, dark and dense in the moonless night.
Mosquitoes whined. Fearful of discovery, I fought the urge to slap them away.
Ryan’s footsteps continued another fifty, maybe sixty yards. Then a door opened, banged shut. Seconds later, light filtered through slivers in the tightly packed flora.
I held back a full minute, then moved forward.
It was a Tarzan arrangement of sorts, a crude cabin on stilts within the branches of a tree. I crept close and peered through the wood-latticed screening.
The lower level contained a very basic kitchen whose centerpiece was a wooden table with two blue plastic chairs. In one corner, an open door revealed a bath with stone-covered walls. In another, slatted stairs angled steeply to an upper floor. The wan illumination was seeping from above.
I stood a moment, breath frozen. What if I was wrong? What if the man wasn’t Ryan?
It was Ryan.
Moving gingerly, I eased open the screen door, tiptoed across the tile and up the stairs. I was on the second tread from the top when he spoke. “What do you want?”
The voice sounded hoarse, weary. Angry? I couldn’t tell.
“It’s Tempe,” I said.
There was no response. I swallowed. Tried to recall the words I’d practiced in my head.
“Why are you following me?”
“I located you through your email.”
“It wasn’t hard.”
Shit. Was I trying to make him feel bad?
“Actually, I had help.”
“So I have been found. Now leave me alone.”
“May I come up?”
“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”
“No. I don’t.”
I stepped onto the top riser.
Ryan was sitting on an unmade bed, knees raised, back to the wall. A single bulb oozed light through a paper-covered fixture above his left shoulder. A fan rotated slowly overhead. A book lay spread on his chest.
An open bottle of Scotch sat on a table made of sticks to the right of the bed. An empty bottle rested at the base of one wall, abandoned where it had rolled to a stop. The smells of old booze and soiled clothing overrode the jungle bouquet coming through the screening that formed the upper half of the walls.
“You look good,” I said.
Partially true. Ryan’s skin was tanned, his hair bleached by hours in the sun. But he’d lost weight. His cheeks were gaunt below the stubble of beard. The shadowing of ribs and hollow spaces rippled his T-shirt.
“I look like shit,” he said.
I launched into the speech I’d practiced. “You’re needed. It’s time to come home.”
Screw it. I cut to the quick. “Anique Pomerleau.”
Ryan’s eyes flicked in my direction. He seemed about to speak, instead reopened the book.
“It’s her, Ryan. She’s killing again. A girl was murdered in Vermont in 2007. Her body was posed. The cold case detective—”
“Past life.” His eyes returned to the book.
“Pomerleau’s DNA was found on the kid.”
Ryan’s gaze remained fixed on the page. But a changed tension in his neck and shoulders told me he was listening.
“You tracked Pomerleau. You caught her. You know how she thinks.”
“I’m no longer in the show.” Still not looking up.
“She’s resurfaced, Ryan. She got away from us on rue de Sébastopol, and now she’s back at it.”
Finally, his eyes rolled up to mine. A spiderweb of red surrounded each neon-blue iris.
“A girl was murdered in Charlotte in 2009. The victimology and crime scene signature parallel the case in Vermont.”
“Including Pomerleau’s DNA?”
“That’s being confirmed.”
Ryan’s eyes held mine for a very long moment, then dropped back to the page he wasn’t reading.
“Another girl has now gone missing. Same physical type. Same MO.”
“Undoubtedly, there were others in between.”
“Leave me alone.”
“We need you. We have to shut her down.”
“Do you know the way back to your hotel?”
“This isn’t you, Ryan. You can’t turn your back on these kids, knowing there will likely be more. More murders of young girls.”
Ryan reached up and killed the light.
Above the whine of insects and the gentle ticking of wind-tossed leaves, I heard him turn away from me.
Back at Villas Katerina, my iPhone picked up a signal, and messages pinged in.
Slidell had called three times.
Of the past forty-eight hours, I’d slept maybe two. Nevertheless, I phoned him. As was his style, Slidell launched in without greeting. “Where the hell are you?”
“Long way to go for a taco.”
“I’m talking to Ryan.” No point in discussing distinctions of ethnic cuisine.
“Yeah? How’s that going?”
“Just tell the bastard to get his ass home.”
“Never thought of that. Why did you phone?”
“When Barrow got the call from Rodas, he set up a cold case review on Nance.”
I knew that.
“First thing he did was resubmit the kid’s clothing and the shit stuck to her hand.”
“Thinking technology has improved since ’09?” I stifled a yawn.
“Yeah. And go figure. It has.”
Suddenly I was wide awake. “The lab found DNA that didn’t belong to Nance?”
“Guess the happy donor.”
The speed of the report didn’t surprise me. The CMPD has its own DNA capability, and turnaround averages two weeks. What shocked me was the fact that the link was now real. Undeniable. Anique Pomerleau had abducted and killed a child in my town.
“What about Shelly Leal?”
“Still out of pocket. But we might have caught a break there. Kid had her own laptop. I had the computer guys take a run at it. The thing was wiped.”
“Around three on Friday afternoon.”
“Right before she disappeared.”
“What was erased?”
“The browser history and the email. Clean. Not one friggin’ message. Not one friggin’ page.”
“Isn’t there an option to clear the history at specified intervals? Or every time you log off?”
“The guy said that’s what clued him. When he checked, the browser wasn’t set to do that. So he did whatever voodoo it is they do, found that someone had manually deleted the stuff. Emptied whatever it is archives your email on Mars.”
“Photos, music, documents, those files are all there. Hadn’t been touched since Friday morning. The only thing nuked was the online stuff.”
“Unlikely a middle-schooler would know how to do that.”
“Mom said the kid wasn’t a techie.”
“Clearly, she was coached.”
“You’re thinking she met Pomerleau online?”
“I’m thinking I’m damn sure gonna find out.”
“Can your guy retrieve any of the deleted files?”
“He’s working on it, no promises.”
“Did you roll this past Rodas?”
“The kid in Vermont didn’t own a computer.”
“Mobile phones? Other devices?”
“Gower didn’t own a cell. Leal did, but the thing’s missing. And the record search turned up shit.”
“How about Nance?”
“That’s why I called. You see any mention of a phone in the CCU file?”
“I’ll check as soon as I get back.”
“Good. I want this bitch in bracelets before she drops another kid.”
After disconnecting, I rewound my conversation with Ryan. Felt anger and resentment at his refusal to help. Then I thought beyond tonight back into the past.
Ryan was one of the good ones. He’d had a few rough years, made a few false starts. But since his rocky youth, he’d done everything right. Played it straight as a cop. Tried hard as a father.
Sure, his loss was unthinkable. But the time for wallowing was over.
I had an idea. Was it callous?
Nope. Enough self-pity.
Decision made, I dug out my Mac, logged on, and went to the US Airways site. When finished, I sat a moment, attempting to calm my frazzled nerves.
Outside, late-night swimmers splashed in the pool. High in the palms, a howler monkey grunt-barked an end-of-day message. Another answered. A small creature, perhaps a gecko, skittered across my window screen.
My thoughts turned to a river cabin shaded by trees soft with moss.
On a whim, I dialed Mama. Got voicemail. I left a rambling message about Samara and fresh seafood and beaches and meeting with Ryan. Said good night. Told her I loved her.
In the moments before sleep came, memories of Ryan again bombarded my mind. His body shielding mine during a biker shoot-out in a Montreal cemetery. Stretched out on a beach in Honolulu. Lying beside me in a hammock in Guatemala.
I dreamed about a cellar beside a rail yard covered in snow.
BY SIX, I
was chugging along the beach road again.
The sky was thinning from black to gray. The ocean had calmed overnight. Its surface was rippling yellow-pink in a triangle announcing the return of
A few vendors were already setting out their wares. Gulls were throwing a party out on the beach. The occasional car or motorcycle passed, now and then a battered pickup. Mostly, I had the pavement to myself.
Ryan was downstairs in one of the blue kitchen chairs, dressed in the same T-shirt and shorts he’d worn the night before. He glanced up when I opened the screen door, then continued spooning Cheerios into his mouth. His face registered nothing.
“Why Costa Rica?” I asked.