Authors: Andrew Grant
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2015 by Andrew Grant
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
False positive : a novel / Andrew Grant.
ebook ISBN 978-0-345-54077-5
1. PoliceâAlabamaâBirminghamâFiction. 2. Missing childrenâFiction. 3. Suspense fiction. I. Title.
823â².92âdc23Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2015036715
Book design by Diane Hobbing, adapted for eBook
Cover design: Scott Biel
Cover image: Â© Joana Kruse/Arcangel Images
â¦within the core of each of us is the child we once were. This child constitutes the foundation of what we have become, who we are, and what we will be.
âDr. Rhawn Joseph,
The Right Brain and the Unconscious:
Discovering the Stranger Within
Friday. Late Afternoon
“I lied.” The woman leaned against the minivan and felt the warmth of the afternoon sun radiate into her back from the shiny white metal. She took a moment to imagine the impact her words were having at the other end of the line. Then she went back to watching the handful of cars and SUVs that were scattered throughout the lengthening shadows of Caffee Junction's horseshoe-shaped parking lot. There were more of them than she'd have liked. More than there'd been the previous two Fridays. But that was a minor detail, she told herself. An irritation. No reason to pull the plug.
“I see.” Lieutenant Hale's grip on the dull-gray plastic handset grew tighter, and she wrestled the urge to smash it to pieces on her paper-strewn desk. She'd been moments away from leaving her office when the phone rang. Now there'd be no chance of beating the afternoon rush. A fitting end to an already dire week, she thought, flipping her little robot-shaped clock facedown on a stack of files. She didn't need to see the jagged second hand relentlessly taunting her as it swept around the dial. “You lied. Mind telling me why?”
“Simple. Money. I was paid to say what I said.”
“Who paid you?”
“I don't know.”
“How much did you get?”
“In one go?”
“No. Five grand before I made the call. Five after. And five when the guy's suspension was confirmed.”
“That's a lot of money for one phone call.”
“Why are you changing your story now?”
“I've got the money now. A chance to start over. I'm driving to my sister's, in San Diego. And I wanted to set the record straight before I get there.”
“OK. Then this is what I need you to do. Come to the precinct. Write down what you just told me. Sign it. And stick around a couple of days, while we get this straightened out.”
“Can't. Already left town.”
“Then come back. Just for a couple days.”
“No way. It's too dangerous. If whoever paid me finds out I'm talking to youâ¦”
“They won't. We can help you. Get you somewhere safe to stay. A hotel.”
“A hotel? Are you kidding me? I want a fresh start. A hotel's the worst place for someone like me. I'm not coming back to Birmingham. Ever. I'm hanging up now andâ”
“Wait. You want to start over, you need a clear conscience. If you don't sign a statement, nothing will change. The detective will stay on suspension. There'll be an investigation. His career will be ruined. And that'll be on you.”
“Why? That doesn't make sense. I'm telling the truth this time.”
“How do I know that? Maybe you were telling the truth the first time, and you're lying now.”
“What does it matter
I was lying? Point is, I'm a liar. My word's not worth shit, either way.”
“How do I know you're even who you say you are? Do you know how many crank calls I've had since the story hit the papers?”
“You know who I am. I used those code words you gave me when I called before.”
“Conversations can be overheard. Code words can be bought. Or given away. Or stolen. They're a good start, but they're not conclusive. I need more.”
“You've got my caller ID. You can see I'm using the same phone. And you record all your calls, right? You can compare the tapes.”
“I will. Count on it. But I still need more.”
“OK. I can give you more. When I called, Tuesday, I had this all planned out. I figured the story would leak. So I added something on top of what I'd been told to say. As insurance. I told you the detective had bitten me. Somewhere private. Remember? You wanted pictures. Doctors' reports.”
Lieutenant Hale didn't reply. When she'd first spoken to this woman, her head had told her to reach for the rule book. As squad commander, she'd done what she was required to do. But as an exstreet cop, every nerve in her body had screamed. She'd felt like she was back in uniform, tiptoeing into an alley at night. And now, with this second call, it was as if an invisible hand was shoving her deeper into the darkness.
“And I was right.” The woman walked to the front of the van, taking care not to snag her heels in the cracks in the sun-bleached pavement. “You were loyal to your guy. You kept that part out of the papers. No one else but me could know about it.”
“I can't. I'm going now. I've got a lot of ground to cover. You're the police. I'm trusting you. Do the right thing.”
The woman ended the call. She broke the old-style flip-phone in half. Dropped the pieces on the ground. Climbed into the van. Scowled at the shiny, goalpost-shaped H in the center of the steering wheel. Fired up the engine. Looped around the squat redbrick building, keeping her speed low as the van bounced clumsily across the pitted blacktop. Kept her distance from a blue Ford station wagon
that was looking for a space in the shade. Then she left the parking lot. Followed the road back toward the interstate. And took the first on-ramp she reached.
The one that led northeast.
Back to the Magic City.