The stranger, p.21
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       The Stranger, p.21

          
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  Adam glanced back toward Len. Still impassive. "Is that what this is about? False allegations?"

  "Where is she?"

  Adam considered his next move carefully. "She's traveling."

  "Where?"

  "She didn't say. What the hell is going on here?"

  "I want to know--"

  "I don't really care what you want to know. Am I under arrest?"

  "No."

  "So I can get up and go at any time, correct?"

  Johanna Griffin glared at him. "That is right, yes."

  "Just so we're clear, Chief Griffin."

  "We are."

  Adam sat up a little straighter, trying to press the advantage. "And now you're asking me about my wife. So either tell me what's going on right now or . . ."

  Johanna Griffin took out another photograph.

  She slid the photograph across the table without saying a word. Adam froze. He stared down at the photograph. No one moved. No one spoke. Adam felt his world teeter. He tried to right himself, tried to speak.

  "Is this . . . ?"

  "Ingrid Prisby?" Johanna finished for him. "Yes, Adam, that's Ingrid Prisby, the woman you might know."

  Adam was having trouble breathing.

  "According to the coroner, the cause of death was a bullet to the brain. But before that, what you're seeing there? In case you're wondering, we believe that the killer did that to her with a box cutter. We don't know how long she suffered."

  Adam couldn't look away.

  Johanna Griffin produced another photograph. "Heidi Dann was shot in the kneecap first. We don't know how long the killer tortured her either, but eventually, the same thing. A bullet to the brain."

  Adam managed to swallow. "And you think . . . ?"

  "We don't know what to think. We want to know what you know about this."

  He shook his head. "Nothing."

  "Really? Let me run down the chronology for you, then. Ingrid Prisby of Austin, Texas, flew into Newark airport from Houston. She stayed for one night alone at the Courtyard Marriott by the airport. While here, she rented a car and drove to the American Legion Hall in Cedarfield. There was a man in the car with her. That man talked to you inside the American Legion Hall. We don't know what was said, but we do know that sometime later, you paid off a parking attendant to get her license plate and presumably you tracked the two of them down. Meanwhile, Ingrid drove that same rental car all the way to Beachwood, Ohio, where she had a conversation with this woman."

  With a shaking hand, with something that looked like barely controlled rage, Johanna Griffin put her finger on the photograph of Heidi Dann.

  "Sometime after that, this woman, Heidi Dann, was shot in the kneecap and then in the head. In her own home. Not long after--we are still putting the timetable together, but sometime between twelve and twenty-four hours later--Ingrid Prisby was mutilated and murdered in a motel room in Columbia, New Jersey, right near the Delaware Water Gap."

  She sat back.

  "So how do you fit in, Adam?"

  "You can't possibly . . ."

  But they did.

  Adam needed time. He needed to get his head together and think it through and try to figure out what to do here.

  "Does this have anything to do with your marriage?" Johanna Griffin asked.

  He looked up. "What?"

  "Len tells me you and Corinne had some difficulties a few years back."

  Adam's eyes snapped to the corner. "Len?"

  "Those were the rumors, Adam."

  "So police work involves gossip?"

  "Not just gossip," Johanna continued. "Who is Kristin Hoy?"

  "What? She's my wife's close friend."

  "And yours too, right? You two have been in communication a lot lately."

  "Because--" He stopped himself.

  "Because?"

  Too much coming out too quickly. He wanted to trust the cops, but he just didn't. The cops had a theory here, and Adam knew that once a theory was formed, it was hard, if not impossible, to get them to see the facts and not twist them to suit what they already believed. Adam remembered how Old Man Rinsky had warned him not to talk to the police. The stakes had been upped, no question, but did that mean he had abandoned the idea of finding Corinne on his own?

  He didn't know.

  "Adam?"

  "We were just talking about my wife."

  "You and Kristin Hoy?"

  "Yes."

  "What about your wife?"

  "About her recent . . . trip."

  "Her trip. Oh, I see. You mean the one where she just left work in the middle of the day and never returned and now won't reply to your or your children's texts?"

  "Corinne said she needed time," Adam said. "I assume, since you clearly went through my communications--and keep in mind I'm an attorney and some of the communications you intercepted could be construed as work product--you read that text too."

  "Convenient."

  "What?"

  "Your wife's text to you. That whole thing about going away and not looking for her. Kinda gives a person time, don't you think?"

  "What are you talking about?"

  "Anyone could have sent that text, right? Even you."

  "Why would I . . . ?"

  He stopped.

  "Ingrid Prisby was with a man at the American Legion Hall," Johanna said. "Who is he?"

  "He never told me his name."

  "What did he tell you?"

  "It has nothing to do with this."

  "Sure it does. Did he threaten you?"

  "No."

  "And you and Corinne have no marital issues, right?"

  "I didn't say that. But it has nothing--"

  "You want to tell us about meeting up with Sally Perryman last night?"

  Silence.

  "Is Sally Perryman another friend of your wife's?"

  Adam stopped. He took deep breaths. Part of him wanted to come clean to Johanna Griffin. He really did. But right now, Johanna Griffin seemed hell-bent on nailing him or Corinne for whatever craziness was going on. He wanted to help. He wanted to know more about these murders, but he also knew the cardinal rule: You never have to take back words you don't say. He'd had a plan this morning. Go to Gabrielle Dunbar's house in Fair Lawn. Get the name of the stranger. He should stick with that plan. It wouldn't take long to drive there.

  More important, it would give him a chance to think.

  Adam stood. "I have to go."

  "You're joking, right?"

  "No. If you want my help, give me a few hours."

  "There are two dead women here."

  "I understand that," Adam said, moving toward the door. "But you're looking at this wrong anyway."

  "How should we be looking at it?"

  "The man who was traveling with Ingrid," Adam said, "the one at the American Legion Hall."

  "What about him?"

  "Do you know who he is?"

  She glanced behind her at Len Gilman, then back at Adam. "No."

  "No clue?"

  "No clue."

  Adam nodded. "He's the key to this. Find him."

  Chapter 42

  Gabrielle Dunbar's house had probably been charming at one point, but over the years, the once-modest Cape Cod had been transformed into a bloated, characterless McMansion by additions and updates and purported "improvements." The newer architectural touches, like bay windows and turrets, distracted rather than enhanced--they gave the house an overly artificial feel.

  Adam approached the ornate front door and rang a bell that played an elaborate tune. Not wanting to wait for the police to drive him back home, he'd used his Uber app to summon a car and get him here. Andy Gribbel was on his way to pick him up and take him to the office. Adam didn't expect this to take long.

  Gabrielle answered the door. Adam recognized her from the Facebook photos. She had raven-black hair so straight it had to be ironed. She had a welcoming smile on her face as she opened the door. The smile dissolved the moment she saw Adam.

  "Can I help you?" she said.

  Her voice had a quiver in it. She didn't open the screen door.

  Adam dove in. "I'm sorry for just intruding like this, but my name is Adam Price." He tried to hand her his business card, but the screen door was still closed. He slid it through the doorjamb. "I'm an attorney in Paramus."

  Gabrielle stood there. The color was ebbing from her face.

  "I'm working on an inheritance case and . . ." He held up his camera phone with the screen grab on it. He used his fingers to blow up the image, so she could see the stranger's face clearer. "Do you know this man?"

  Gabrielle Dunbar slipped her fingers into the doorjamb and plucked out his business card. She stared at it for a long time. Then, finally, she turned her attention to the image on his iPhone. After a few seconds, she shook her head and said, "No."

  "It was an office party, from the looks of it. Surely, you must--"

  "I have to go now."

  The quiver had grown toward something closer to panic or fear. She started to close the door.

  "Ms. Dunbar?"

  She hesitated.

  Adam wasn't sure what to say exactly. He had spooked her. That was obvious to him. He had spooked her, and that meant that she had to know something.

  "Please," he said. "I need to find this man."

  "I told you. I don't know him."

  "I think you do."

  "Get off my property."

  "My wife is missing."

  "What?"

  "My wife. This man did something, and now she's gone."

  "I don't know what you're talking about. Please leave."

  "Who is he? That's all I want to know. His name."

  "I told you. I don't recognize him. Please, I have to go. I don't know anything."

  The door started to close again.

  "I won't stop looking. Tell him that. I won't stop until I find the truth."

  "Get off my property, or I'll call the police."

  She slammed the door shut.

  *

  Gabrielle Dunbar paced for ten minutes, chanting the words So Hum over and over. She had learned this particular Sanskrit mantra at yoga. At the end of the class, her teacher would have them all lie on their backs in Corpse pose. She would have them close their eyes and repeat "So Hum" for five straight minutes. The first time the teacher had suggested this, Gabrielle had practically rolled her closed eyes. But then, somewhere around minute two or three, she began to feel the toxins of stress drain from her body.

  "So . . . hum . . ."

  She opened her eyes. It wasn't working. There were things she had to do first. Missy and Paul wouldn't be home from school for hours. That was good. That would give her time to prepare and pack. She grabbed her phone, scrolled through her favorites, hit the contact she called Douche Nozzle.

  Two rings later, her ex answered. "Gabs?"

  His nickname for her--the only one who called her that--still grated. When they first began dating, he started calling her "my Gabs" and she'd thought it was adorable in that way you do when you first fall in love and then, months later, the very sound of it makes you gag.

  "Can the kids stay with you?" she asked.

  He didn't bother hiding his exasperation. "When?"

  "I was thinking of dropping them off tonight."

  "You're kidding, right? I've been asking you for extra visits--"

  "And now I'm giving it to you. Can you take them tonight?"

  "I'm in Chicago on business till the morning."

  Damn it. "How about Whatshername?"

  "You know her name, Gabs. Tami is here with me."

  He had never taken Gabrielle on business trips, probably because he was meeting up with Tami or one of her predecessors. "Tami," Gabrielle repeated. "Does she dot the i or put a heart over it? I forget."

  "Funny," he said. But it hadn't been, she knew. It had been stupid. There were much bigger fish to fry than a long-dead marriage. "We'll be back first thing in the morning."

  "I'll drop them off then," she said.

  "For how long?"

  "A few days," she said. "I'll let you know."

  "All okay, Gabs?"

  "Peachy. Love to Tami."

  Gabrielle hung up. She looked out the window. Part of her had known this day would come from the first time Chris Taylor had approached her. It was just a question of when. The whole enterprise had been enormously appealing, a win-win, revealing truths and making money, but she'd never forgotten the obvious: They were playing with fire. People will do anything to keep their secrets.

  Even kill.

  "So . . . hum . . ."

  It still wasn't working. She headed up to her bedroom. Even though Gabrielle knew that she was alone in the house, she closed the door. She lay on her bed in a fetal position and started to suck her thumb. Embarrassing, but when the so-hums couldn't do the trick, reverting to something so primitive and infantile often did. She pulled up her knees tighter to her chest and let herself have a little cry. When she was done, she took out her mobile phone. She used a VPN for privacy. It wasn't foolproof, but for now, it would be enough. She read the business card again.

  ADAM PRICE, ATTORNEY-AT-LAW

  He had found her. And if he had found her, it made sense that he'd also been the one who found Ingrid.

  To paraphrase that movie with Jack Nicholson, some people can't handle the truth.

  Gabrielle reached into her bottom drawer and took out a Glock 19 Gen4 and laid it on the bed. Merton had given it to her, claiming it was the perfect handgun for women. He'd taken her out to a firing range in Randolph and taught her how to use it. It was loaded and ready to go. She'd been worried at first about keeping a loaded gun in the house with young children, but the possible threats had trumped standard home safety.

  So what now?

  Simple. Follow procedure. She snapped a photo of Adam Price's card with her iPhone. She attached the image to an e-mail and typed in two words before hitting SEND: HE KNOWS

  Chapter 43

  Adam left work early and drove to the new turf field at Cedarfield High School. The boys' lacrosse team was practicing. He parked down the block, out of sight, and watched his son Thomas from behind the bleachers. He had never done this before--watched a practice--and he probably couldn't articulate exactly what he was doing here. He just wanted to watch his son for a while. That's all. Adam remembered what Tripp Evans had said at the American Legion Hall the night this all started, how he couldn't believe how lucky those of them who lived in towns like this were: "We're living the dream, you know."

  Tripp was right, of course, but it was interesting how we described our personal paradise as a "dream." Dreams are fragile. Dreams don't last. One day you wake up and poof, the dream is gone. You stir and feel it pull away from you as you helplessly grab at the smoky remnants. But it's useless. The dream dissolves, gone forever. And standing there, watching his son play the game he loved, Adam couldn't help but feel that since the stranger's visit, they were all on the verge of waking up.

  The coach blew the whistle and told everyone to take a knee. They did so. A few minutes later, the boys took off their helmets and trudged back toward the locker room. Adam stepped out from behind the bleachers. Thomas stopped short when he saw him.

  "Dad?"

  "It's fine," Adam said. Then realizing that might be misinterpreted to mean that Corinne was back, he added, "I mean, nothing new."

  "Why are you here?"

  "I got out of work early. I thought I'd give you a ride home."

  "I need to shower first."

  "No problem. I'll wait."

  Thomas nodded and started back toward the locker room. Adam checked in on Ryan. He'd gone to Max's house straight from school. Adam texted him, asking whether he'd be ready to be picked up when Thomas was finished in order to save his old man another trip out. Ryan texted back "np," and it still took Adam a few moments to realize that meant "no problem."

  In the car ten minutes later, Thomas asked him what the police wanted.

  "It's really hard to explain right now," Adam said. "I'm not saying that to protect you, but for now, you're going to have to let me handle it."

  "Does it have something to do with Mom?"

  "I don't know."

  Thomas didn't push it. They stopped and picked up Ryan. Ryan slipped into the backseat and said, "Oh, gross, what's that smell?"

  "My lacrosse equipment," Thomas said.

  "Nasty."

  "Agreed," Adam said, lowering the windows. "How was school?"

  "Good," Ryan said. Then: "Anything new on Mom?"

  "Not yet." He debated saying more and then decided that some of the truth might offer comfort. "But the good news is, the police are involved now."

  "What?"

  "They're going to look for Mom too."

  "The police," Ryan said. "Why?"

  Adam gave a half shrug. "It's like Thomas said to me last night. This isn't like her. So they'll help us find her."

  The boys, he was certain, would have follow-up questions, but as the car pulled onto their street, Ryan said, "Hey, who's that?"

  Johanna Griffin sat on their front stoop. She stood as Adam turned into the driveway, smoothing out the institutional-green pantsuit. She smiled and waved like a neighbor who'd stopped by to borrow sugar. Adam pulled the car to a stop as Johanna, still smiling, strolled casually and unthreateningly toward them.

  "Hey, guys," she called out.

  They all got out of the car. The boys looked wary.

  "I'm Johanna," she said, shaking the boys' hands. Thomas and Ryan looked toward their father for answers.

  "She's a police officer," he told them.

  "Well, not officially when I'm here," Johanna said. "In Beachwood, Ohio, I'm known as Chief Griffin. But here, well, I'm out of my jurisdiction, so I'm just Johanna. Nice to meet you guys." She kept the smile up, but Adam knew it was just for show. The boys probably knew that too.

  "Mind if I come in?" she asked Adam.

  "Okay."

  Thomas opened the back of the car and pulled out his lacrosse bag. Ryan strapped on a backpack ridiculously overstuffed with textbooks. As they headed toward the door, Johanna lingered behind. Adam stayed with her. When the boys were out of earshot, he simply said, "Why are you here?"

  "We found your wife's car."

  Chapter 44

  Adam and Johanna sat in the living room.

  The boys were in the kitchen. Thomas had boiled up the water for pasta. Ryan microwaved a packet of frozen vegetables. It would hold them for now.

  "So where did you find Corinne's car?" Adam asked.

  "First off, I have to come clean."

 
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